Connecticut's Department of Education recently released troubling new data that revealed that nearly one in five students do not finish high school in four years. The study, released just days after Connecticut learned it would not receive critical federal education funds through Race to the Top, also showed that graduation rates among Hispanic, black, poor (those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches), special education and English language learner students are even more startling, with about one in three unable to earn a standard diploma within four years.
In short, our education system needs reform. Our kids and state can't afford to wait, because our future workforce and economy directly correlate to their learning, development and contributions to society.
Connecticut is at an important crossroads, which provides the opportunity for business, government and education leaders to come together to provide solutions for our children and young adults.
Today's students are tomorrow's workforce. The Travelers Cos. education program, Travelers EDGE (Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment) is fostering partnerships with community-based nonprofit organizations and Connecticut's leading education institutions. We aim to provide a holistic approach to education that arms students with the tools and resources to succeed in high school, college and beyond.
Fortunately, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently outlined six broad principles to guide education reform in 2012. Additionally, Sen. Richard Blumenthal late last year introduced a new bill relative to the important role community colleges play in workforce development. Education is a top-of-mind issue in our state, and Travelers is committed to working with the governor, General Assembly and federal delegation to improve our schools.
According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, every school day 7,000 U.S. students leave high school never to return. In 2004, approximately 3.8 million 16- to 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school, and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential, such as a General Educational Development Tests certificate.
Many of the students we recruit through Travelers EDGE come from underrepresented backgrounds, where these numbers are often higher. Creating a pipeline to success is the key to lowering these rates. Students need to understand the importance of higher education, see a pathway to obtaining a bachelor's degree, and believe that there are real ways to break down the financial, cultural and other barriers that inhibit them.
Through our framework, students gain access to critical resources including mentorships, financial aid, hands-on work experience, computer skills training, professional development, and most of all, a sense of hope and worth. Earlier this year, Travelers hosted its first Insurance and Financial Services Day to raise awareness of careers in our industry among high school students. The earlier a pipeline is built, the greater the likelihood a student will develop, perform, succeed and contribute to society. Travelers EDGE also offers opportunities for middle school students to learn about higher education and the academic path necessary to attain degrees.
Travelers EDGE collaborates with partners including Career Beginnings, Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program, High School, Inc., Capital Community College, Central Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut. We plan to leverage the unique contributions of our state's significant institutional assets to give students every shot at achieving the American dream.
For instance, students at High School, Inc., an insurance and financial services school with an academy-like learning approach, have the opportunity to learn early about our industry. As part of their training, they learn about the basics of the business world, including work experience through internships. Students also get help with filling out their college applications, and are set on the pathway to attend one of our partner schools such as Capital, CCSU or UConn.
In 2011, more than 7,000 students were reached by the Travelers EDGE program in three states, and although we realize that ours is a small piece of the puzzle, we are committed to working with elected officials, nonprofits and education institutions, as well as business and community leaders, to provide a brighter future for young people.
Marlene Ibsen is vice president of community relations for The Travelers Cos, Inc. and CEO of the Travelers Foundation.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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