Thousands Earn H.S. diplomas this Month while Thousands Walk Away Empy Handed

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Thousands of young people and their families are gathering across Georgia the next couple of weeks to celebrate a rite of passage on the path to adulthood: high school graduation.

The high school graduation rate in Georgia is improving, but many communities are still struggling to achieve a 50-percent graduation rate. With the new method of measuring high-school graduation, the graduation rate for 2011 fell from 80.9 percent to 67.4 percent in Georgia. 

Youth who graduate are investing in their future by entering the workforce, joining the military, or going to college. But there’s a group of teens are being left behind. More than 62,000 Georgians age 16 to 19—more than enough to fill Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium—are not in school and not working.

The value of a high-school diploma cannot be overestimated in terms of lifelong earnings. A high-school graduate in Georgia earns $8,089 annually more than a dropout.

Students in Georgia accepted into college face other challenges. Less than 40 percent of them qualify for the HOPE scholarship. The New York Times reported this week that two-thirds of the nation’s students receiving bachelor’s degrees borrowed money to pay for their education. Many graduates are crippled by student debt averaging $23,300 with a national price tag of $1 trillion in outstanding student loans.

Even though families are borrowing funds to pay for a college education, the value of an advanced degree is still a worthwhile investment to reap lifetime benefits. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that people without a high-school diploma earn $19,492 annually, compared to $27,281 for high-school graduates. A bachelor’s degree increases annual earnings to $48,485, and a graduate or professional degree takes that amount to $63,612.

The good news for those young people who are no longer in school and not working, there are plenty of opportunities to drop back in.

The Technical College System of Georgia/Office of Adult Education (TCSG) is a good place to start working toward that GED and becoming career ready. TCSG offers new and inexpensive opportunities to youth who have not yet completed high school. Georgia residents are eligible to receive the $500 HOPE GED Voucher, which can be used toward postsecondary education in Georgia.

The Workplace Education Program focuses on basic skills training that all workers need to gain and retain employment, and companies profit from a more productive work environment.

Let’s celebrate the achievements of all our teens who have earned their diplomas and cheer them on as they move forward to take their place as contributing citizens of this great state. A tip of the mortarboard to the class of 2012!