Looking to Entrepreneurship Education During the Economic Crisis

Posted: December 3, 2009 in Education, Government, Related Youth Policy- Keeping You in the Know, Youth Education in Entrepreneurship
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Looking to Entrepreneurship Education During the Economic Crisis

By Julie Silard Kantor, Vice President,

The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship

(NFTE Washington Office)

As the whirlwind of news surrounding the vast global economic crisis continues, I stopped to reflect on why providing an entrepreneurship education to low-incomes youth – the primary cause of our Foundation – matters so much, especially at this time.

Obviously, this is an important contemporary civil rights issue. Power and influence in our country is granted to those who own – own their own land, their own houses, and their own businesses. Yet interestingly enough, we teach our students to be employees and not business owners. Many high schools have job placement programs to help their students, but rarely do we see the possibility of entrepreneurship presented as an option. Many also fail to see the correlation between the health of the economy and the people who have a vested interest in its health: entrepreneurs.

Of equal importance is the simple fact that our country’s 1.2 million dropouts costs over $329 billion in lost wages annually, according to Bob Wise,[1] who spoke to the YES Group at the Aspen Institute’s Wye Center, where additional compelling research was presented by Robert Balfanz of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University about high school dropouts.

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 – and our kids won’t be able to compete. Then, even more jobs will have to go overseas. In addition to Balfanz’s eye-opening research, I encourage you to read John Bridgeland’s “The Silent Epidemic.”[2] In this research, Bridgeland interviewed high school dropouts 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 (and we are strong proponents of the growing financial literacy movement), 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. The drug war taught kids to say No to drugs. Starting a legal enterprise is a concept our young people can say yes to.

In a 2006 survey by Junior Achievement 71% of middle and high school students wanted to be self-employed at some point, up from 64% in 2004. In 2006, the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) released a critical report calling for a major overhaul of the country’s educational system. A report titled “Tough Choices, Tough Times,” written by YESG’s Vice Chairman, Thomas Payzant, highlights the link between education and the economy and provides policy recommendations for America’s schools.

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.

Adding to this argument is research by the Harvard Graduate School of Education has found that students, having taken a 50-plus-hour entrepreneurial course show:

  • increased interest in attending college and heightened career aspirations
  • increased feeling of control over their lives
  • increased leadership behaviors

NFTE findings further indicate that these entrepreneurial courses:

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

Balfanz 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

Many years ago, a NFTE graduate and business owner, Michelle Araujo, summed it up:

My dream is not to die in poverty, but to have poverty die in me!

We need to fast-track our work so we reach these kids and not lose another generation of students before we can teach them to fuel their dreams and have belief in their own potential. This in turn will reward our country handsomely, not only with a more educated workforce, but one that adds to and nurtures our economy’s health – because it impacts their own.

We can’t afford to let 1.2 million kids fail annually.

[1] President of the Alliance for Excellent Education.

[2] 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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