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This month, tens of thousands of graduating seniors across North Texas are preparing to take their next steps into the world. The stakes are high for each individual student and for our community as a whole. After all, these students are graduating amid a steep 10-year decline in college enrollment and the uncertainty of our current job market.
At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, college and career readiness is an important part of our work. We know that when students are empowered with a strong education, they are more likely to go on to achieve financial stability, which also supports a lifetime of good health. These three building blocks of opportunity—education, income and health—are the foundation that enables our neighbors in North Texas to thrive.
College and career readiness programs play a key role in preparing students for success, expanding financial stability, growing our local workforce and ensuring more of our neighbors can access the health care they need. Here, we take a closer look at the importance of these initiatives, as well as how you can help prepare high schoolers for life after graduation.
Perhaps now more than ever, students in our community greatly benefit from college and career readiness programs. Over the last two years, COVID-19 has sent shock waves through schools across North Texas, leaving many students feeling uncertain about their post-graduation plans. Are they truly ready for life after high school? Should they apply for college, even though the high cost of tuition is turning many students away? Or should they enter the workforce and hope to work their way up over the years?
For many graduates, these types of decisions have a huge impact on their future financial security. When students aren’t college or career ready, they’re more likely to fall behind after high school. Today, 74% of young adults in North Texas don’t earn a living wage. Without that basic level of financial stability, our young neighbors can really struggle.
College and career readiness also impacts our community as a whole. For North Texas to continue its economic success, our region needs a skilled workforce that is prepared for the jobs and demands of today’s global economy.
Consider these statistics: Eighty-five percent of good-paying jobs in North Texas require education beyond a high school diploma, but only 30% of local students are prepared for college or career training that will qualify them for these jobs. Like so much else in our society, this problem hits people of color hardest: The rates of college readiness are significantly lower for Black (15%) and Latinx (17%) students compared to their white peers (42%).
That’s why as part of our Aspire United 2030 goals, we’re working to increase by 20% the number of young adults in North Texas who earn a living wage. This type of progress won’t only benefit individuals; it will have an enormous impact on our region as a whole, adding nearly $800 million in wages to the local economy every year.
For many North Texas students, these challenges begin well before high school. According to a study from the American Educational Research Foundation, students who are both not reading proficiently by third grade and living in poverty are 13 times less likely to graduate from high school on time compared to their proficient, more affluent peers.
We need programs and initiatives that give young students a strong start in school, better prepare graduates to earn a living wage and help to build a more diverse workforce.
At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we create, lead and invest in programs that give students strong pathways to financial security, while also enabling young adults to get and keep better jobs.
Understandably, most K-12 students don’t intuitively know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. At such a young age, they need exposure and access to the relevant skills, experience and connections that will equip them for a living wage job with career advancement—helping to ensure long-term financial stability and economic mobility.
Our programs and investments take a holistic approach that helps students prepare academically, develop social and emotional skills to ensure well-being, and connect with mentors and resources to persist and graduate ready for the professional workplace.
Many of our programs and partnerships directly impact college and career readiness, including:
We also work with several community partners to achieve our goals, including: