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Editorial: High school grads need to continue education

May. 18, 2013 @ 09:40 PM

The high school graduation season is in full swing.

Graduates at Boyd County High School and Grace Christian School received their diplomas last week, and other commencement ceremonies are scheduled across the Tri-State almost every day this week. By next Sunday night, most area seniors will have their degrees in hand.

It is an important achievement for the students and their families. But after the parties and beach trips are over, we hope the graduates will soon turn their focus to the next stage of their education.

Because more than ever, they are going to need it.

Public education in our region ranks about average in getting young people through high school. In Wisconsin and Vermont, almost 90 percent of ninth-graders eventually graduate. In Nevada and Mississippi, barely 60 percent graduate. West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio are comfortably in the middle of the pack, with 77-79 percent of ninth-graders graduating.

But the "college-going" rate for our region is low. In recent years, 60 percent or less of West Virginia's high school grads pursued further education -- on either the community college or the college level. Although those numbers have improved over the years, the cumulative effect is that our region has some of the lowest overall education levels in the country.

If low-skilled jobs were still plentiful, that might not be so bad. But increasingly, the job market requires more education or training to earn a reasonable wage or even find a job.

The slow economic recovery means high school and college graduates again face a tough job market this year, but the picture is brighter for those with additional education. This spring, the unemployment rate for college graduates was under 4 percent. For those with no college it was over 8 percent, and for those with no high school diploma the rate was over 11 percent.

Although the rising costs of college has many wondering whether the degree is really worth the expense, generally college graduates do have greater earning power. The census reports the average wage of those with a bachelor's degree at about $51,000 a year, and advanced degrees at $74,000. For those with just a high school diploma, the average is about $28,000 and for those with no degree about $18,700.

But the one-year and two-year degrees available through area community colleges also lead to better paying jobs, especially in technical areas and medical fields. Industry and union apprenticeship programs and military service are other options that can help those not interested in a four-year degree find a path to a viable career.

This week we congratulate all of the members of the high school Class of 2013, and urge each graduate to build on that diploma with additional training and education.

That means a brighter future for them and for our communities.

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