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Editorial: Graduation rates from high schools show needed gains

Jun. 14, 2013 @ 11:41 PM

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear took a moment this week to tout his state's progress on producing more high school graduates.

Over the past decade, the improvement has been dramatic, rising from 63.7 percent of students graduating in 2000 to 77.2 percent in 2010. That puts Kentucky a little above the national graduation rate of about 75 percent.

West Virginia also has seen gains from 70.2 percent in 2000 to 74.7 percent in 2010, and Ohio's rate now stands above 80 percent. Overall, a greater focus on graduation, including raising the minimum ages for dropouts and other programs, have helped across the country.

The nation's graduation rate is the highest since the 1970s, and a report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center is optimistic that rate could "surpass the historical high of 77.1 percent within a few years."

That's good, because the number of low-skill jobs is smaller today, and the market is very competitive.

For example, about 20 percent of jobs in West Virginia are considered low-skill, but thanks to those low graduation rates in years past, about 29 percent of workers are considered low-skill, according to figures from the National Skills Coalition. That means about a third of low-skilled workers are probably having trouble finding work.

Unfortunately, the demand for low-skill jobs is not expected to grow beyond that 20 percent. So, dropout rates of 20-25 percent each year almost certainly translate into unemployment.

That's why Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday noted that Kentucky, despite its improving numbers, still has a long way to go. His goal is that every student graduates, and it is critical that schools keep moving in that direction.

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