NEW OP-ED The Rise of Youth Entrepreneurship Education

Posted: December 1, 2008 in Education
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The Rise of Youth Entrepreneurship Education

In a time of economic instability, there is still a strong sense of hope in America that Entrepreneurs will save the day

by Alice Horn, Executive Director NFTE South Florida

Our economy is changing and the kids aren’t alright

This country offers every child an education in preparation for life, yet our high school students are dropping out at the distressing rate of more than 3000 per day. For varied reasons, and this problem spans the socio-economic field, not all of these youth are destined for college. We know it, and they do too. We also know the we cannot afford to allow these youth to lose hope in the possibility of creating for themselves a productive, self-sufficient and fulfilling life.

If not higher education, then what?

As Wall Street and the economy are floundering and large corporations cut jobs to stay afloat, our economic survival has become increasingly reliant on small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures. These are then reliant on the availability of competent workers and managers to keep the wheels turning.

Nearly 30% of the US labor force are small business owners or self-employed. According to the Census Bureau, these entrepreneurs and small business owners have become this country’s backbone. This is especially true in South Florida, where 1 in 8 adults are involved in new business creation and more than 90% of all firms have 20 employees or fewer. This is typical for the United States as a whole, particularly for those living in large urban areas with diversified or service-oriented economies. As the increased need for a workforce with small business operation and management skills grows, so does the need for entrepreneurial education programs.

To build that workforce, we need to keep our students in school and in order to do so it’s imperative that we keep their minds actively engaged. A study conducted by Harvard University Graduate School of Education shows that youth entrepreneurship programs like NFTE are particularly effective for keeping students from low-income communities on the academic track and proved to be a significant force in driving them toward high achievement and leadership positions.

A case in point is Jessica Cervantes, a 17-year old high school student enrolled in the NFTE Program at John A. Ferguson Sr. High in Miami, and who comes from a low-income family. In this program, Jessica has acquired an entrepreneurial skill set and a vision for success, and of owning her own company. Last month, Jessica and her business venture called Popsy Cakes won the OppenheimerFunds/NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, where she was awarded $10,000 in seed money. Through the skills learned from the NFTE program, Jessica impressed judges with her innovation and a business presentation that included information on financials, time management, a marketing plan, robust growth strategy and fully functional website –

Today, she in the process of patenting her unique creations: deliciously quirky-shaped kid-friendly cupcakes that come on a completely edible cookie stick, and were designed to eliminate sticky fingers on doors, counters, and other household surfaces, making them ideal for kids and party treats.

The same Harvard study also found that students participating in NFTE’s entrepreneurial education program increased their career aspirations by 44%. In a study by the Koch Foundation, participation in the program increased small-business formation by 30 times. Furthermore, studies have shown that entrepreneurship graduates are three times more likely to be self-employed and three times more likely to be involved in the forming of new business ventures than those with non-entrepreneurship business degrees.

Clearly, entrepreneurial education keeps our youth in school, and returns our disenfranchised students back to the classroom and community. We believe that ultimately the NFTE program helps them find their place in the world.

A great start to a happy ending

The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship is a non-profit organization that runs programs in 22 states and 12 countries. NFTE targets high school students from low-income communities and teaches them to think like an entrepreneur, and provides an opportunity early on to take control of their destiny. NFTE aims to both improve their academic skills and to impart the business, technology and life skills required to go out and succeed in an increasingly complex global marketplace.

The program moves knowledge beyond rote and the abstract, which youth can sometimes dismiss as useless. Instead, NFTE focuses on the practical application of knowledge where students learn business concepts and skills through the specially created curriculum and hands-on activities including wholesale buying trips, selling events at schools, business expos and business plan competitions. The program is designed to help students realize they are capable of achieving financial self-sufficiency, building self confidence and finding their self-worth. And it shows them how to do it. NFTE fosters in students a belief in their ability to create a better future for themselves, their families and for the community at large by opening their eyes to possibilities and opportunities they might have never otherwise considered.

The big fish are catching on

Entrepreneurial skills were once learned only through experience and mentoring. However, the marked growth and success rate of entrepreneurial education has vastly altered this perception. Today, many significant corporations including Merrill Lynch, CA (Computer Associates) and OppenheimerFunds recognize the urgent necessity of instilling entrepreneurship skills and perspectives into today’s educational process. These and other organizations are supporting the development of such programs nationwide by sponsoring activities like business plan competitions and by offering mentoring programs.

In addition, currently more than 1,600 colleges and universities have created entrepreneurship education programs that focus on relevant topics such as business planning, niche marketing, strategic decision making, presentation and networking skills, technology applications and capital accessing methods.

At the current growth rate, entrepreneurship education programs like NFTE’s could more than double over the next 5 years.

We’re on fire, but the work’s not done

Michael Caslin, executive vice president for public policy at NFTE believes Congress should add an entrepreneurship com­ponent in the reauthorization of The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, (NCLB). He stated in Education Daily (2/28/08) that Congress should amend the law to fund the certification of high school educators to teach entrepreneurship electives, especially to students most likely to be “left behind.”

Caslin also went on to point out that the UK only embarked on similar programs as recently as 2002. Although the US has been at it for 20 years, both London and New York City trained the same number of students (5000).

The Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy Group, Aspen (YESG) has trained over 4,800 Certified Entrepreneurship Teachers spanning 31 states and 13 countries. Steve Mariotti, who plays a significant role within this organization and is the founder of NFTE said, “YESG is a growing movement of empowerment. It’s the next civil rights agenda.”

Keep building the momentum

Since opening in South Florida in January 2006, NFTE’s local program has rapidly expanded into 27 high schools in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, taking full advantage of the fact that entrepreneurship education is booming at college, university and now high school levels. NFTE recognizes the increasingly important role of entrepreneurship study in the well-rounded education of Generation Y, our most entrepreneurial-driven generation to date.

In fact, in response to the growing need for entrepreneurial mind and skill sets, Florida’s Department of Education announced the implementation of an entrepreneurial major for high school students that came into effect for the 2007-2008 school year. Other states and school districts around the country are following suit.

Even in unstable times, we must continue to invest in our future

According to a recent Kauffman Foundation survey, 75% of those surveyed said that they don’t believe the current economic crisis has dampened America’s optimism. They believe they are, or someday will be living “the American dream.” And they are looking to entrepreneurs and small business to revive our flagging economy by creating and sustaining new jobs that are unlikely to be exported abroad.

We are a nation of innovators capable of morphing our markets to accommodate change. We will ride out this storm and emerge stronger and wiser for the challenges we have faced.

And we are still a country of promise and opportunity. No child should be left on the outside looking in. We have a responsibility to provide the opportunity for all of our youth to discover, develop and share their innate gifts and passions with the world.

With NFTE’s entrepreneurial education program and others like it, we can now supply the tools needed to empower our young citizens to participate in and contribute to our ever-changing society.

In the big picture, NFTE benefits us all.

  1. Dorothy says:

    As a volunteer and fundraiser for EntrepreneursNOW, I wholeheartedly agree that entrepreneurial education should be a standard part of high school curriculum and is a powerful tool for encouraging students to complete high school. We have seen students complete our program and finish school – even go on to college — despite high odds of dropping out prior to the program. We know our program is highly effective in altering the way these students operate such that they take control of their futures and their success. And the entrepreneurial component is undoubtedly an important piece of that.

  2. Peggy Gibbs says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Our youth need the opportunity to learn about and practice the entreprenuerial skills that will benefit them in school, work and life. We have found in our summer entrepreneur business academy, Camp BizSmart, that students are eager to take on real world problems, come up with solutions and be part of, and have a voice in what they see happening all around them today. Great learning takes place when we make it relevant and challenging. NFTE is a great organization and we are fans of their efforts. In these times especially, it will be the innovative, inventive, out of the box ideas that will provide the solutions and the economic opportunites. Peggy Gibbs, co-founder, Camp BizSmart

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