by Julie Silard Kantor, on behalf of the Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy Group (YES)

and The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)

I have gone to so many conferences and briefings, and met with so many fascinating experts over the last few months, that my head is spinning with endless data points and facts on the subject of high-school dropout rates and America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.

I am reflecting now on why our causeyouth entrepreneurship education for low-income youth matters. The stakes are high, since it can actually be part of the solution to one of our country’s greatest challenges: how to bring economically at-risk young people into mainstream society.

Not only is this an important contemporary civil rights issue, as power and influence in this country rests with those who own (isn’t it interesting that we teach our kids to be employees but not to be owners), but it is an issue of America’s future and competitiveness.

Did you know that 7,000 young people dropped out of America’s high schools last Friday?

That happens every day.

Outraged? I hope so. The fact is, 1.2 million kids drop out of school every year and it costs over $329 billion in lost wages annually — according to Bob Wise,[*] who spoke at the Aspen Institute’s Wye Center, as well as powerful research presented by Robert Balfanz of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University.

To break it down, Balfanz’s research shows that one out of three of America’s young people overall will not graduate high school, and that includes 50 percent of minority youth. Forty-eight percent of the dropouts in America come from 2,000 high schools being called “dropout factories.” These are our children we’re talking about.

The decision to drop out is a one-million-dollar decision in lost wages for each child who makes it. Further, 90 percent of the fastest-growing employment categories in America require a college degree — our kids won’t be able to compete — many more jobs will have to go overseas.

This eye-opening research comes from Belfanz, and John Bridgeland,[†] whose report, “The Silent Epidemic,” I encourage you to read.

General Colin Powell recently spoke at an event for America’s Promise that I attended to kick off the Drop-Out Summits that will be taking place in 50 cities — to bring national awareness to this epidemic. As General Powell notes, the dropout crisis impacts our economy and even our national security. We cannot remain a world superpower if we do not give our children the resources they need to succeed.

The number one predictor of a child’s future success is whether he or she will graduate — we can’t afford to let nearly one-third of our kids fail. Powell confirms that just conferring a diploma is not enough. Students must graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in college, work, and life.

Bridgeland interviewed high school dropouts (here’s where “our cause” comes in — NFTE and the E*Trade-sponsored Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy [YES] Group is building a coalition to reverse this trend with such prestigious partners as the Aspen Institute, Council of Governors, Junior Achievement, DECA, Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education, and others) and asked them why they dropped out of school:

81% said they would not have if the subjects were more relevant to real life.

Teaching children how to make it financially, how to own their futures as economically productive members of society, is both real life and relevant. Getting business leaders into classrooms to share their expertise and optimism is key. Youth entrepreneurship engages young people and gives them a good reason to go to school. Some salient facts:

Research by the Harvard Graduate School of Education has found that having taken a course from NFTE:

  • Increases interest in attending college and heightens career aspirations
  • Increases students’ feeling of control over their lives
  • Increases leadership behaviors

Findings from internal evaluation conducted nationally through an online system called TEAMS further indicate that contact with NFTE:

  • Increases engagement in school
  • Increases students’ sense of connection with adults in business and the community
  • Increases independent reading
  • Increases business and entrepreneurial knowledge

Belfanz maintains that youth entrepreneurship is:

  • A reason for kids to come to school
  • An avenue for short-term success
  • A help in providing a clear pathway to adult success
  • A way to develop neighborhood assets

Did you know that, according to the Department of Labor, the average American will have 8 to 10 jobs by the age of 38? If I were going to have so many jobs, I’d sure look at myself differently — less as an employee and more of a free agent. I’d want to hone my entrepreneurial and networking skills, and more — just to survive in the economy.

Many years ago, a NFTE student, Michelle Araujo, summed it up: “My dream is not to die in poverty, but to have poverty die in me!”

I’d love your opinions — please post them or e-mail me at juliek@nfte.com

We need to fast-track our work so we reach these kids and not lose another generation of young people who need to fuel their dreams and have belief in their own potential.

Julie Kantor
Executive Director
NFTE-Greater Washington (www.nfte.com <http://www.nfte.com/> )

Note: Julie will become NFTE’s National Vice President, Office of Public Policy, based in Washington, effective July 1, 2008, and have the task of expanding entrepreneurship education in America’s Schools.


[*] President of the Alliance for Excellent Education.

[†] John M. Bridgeland, et al., The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts. A report issued in association with Peter D. Hart Research Association for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises, March 2006.

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