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Back to school this year came with an extra-heavy sigh of relief after last-year’s Covid shutdowns that impacted students and families nationwide.
The very real cost of learning loss, quantified in a national study by McKinsey & Company, pointed to a potential lifetime earnings loss of $61,000 to $82,000 for the average K-12 student.
For students who dropped out of school during this time, their future earning loss may be as much as 21 percent on average.
So, the impetus on all of us, as a community, is to both support our students in recovering any lost time and/or lost learning and help those who disconnected from their education get reconnected as quickly as possible.
And, we already have definitive proof of what works to keep students engaged in their education.
A poll by Gallup in 2012 showed us that high-school students were almost twice as likely as elementary students to feel disengaged from their education (44 percent for elementary vs. 76 percent for high school), but we also knew how to reduce the risk of dropping out. According to a national Dropout Prevention Study conducted with students who had dropped out of school, career development and job training (connections between what they were learning and their future careers) were the top interventions that would have kept them in school. Family engagement and mentoring came in a bit behind at second and third.
We also knew that we had pretty dramatic disconnects in student “readiness” between high school and college and between college and employment. According to Jobs for the Future and the ACT National Curriculum Survey, nationally 89 percent of high-school teachers thought students were “ready” for college, but only 26 percent of college faculty agreed. And yet while 96 percent of college staff thought their graduates were “ready” for careers, only 11 percent of employers agreed with them. Closing these disconnects moving forward must be top of mind in our community’s collaborative work.
Separately, the lockdowns also imposed an economic loss on parents, many of whom lost jobs or were unable to work for a number of reasons, including school and childcare closures. A Pew Research Study in March showed that the majority of “non-retired adults” who faced job and wage loss felt the economic impact of the lockdowns would make it harder for them to achieve their financial goals. Those most affected, as studies have shown, are those who are lower-income, lower-skilled workers -- primarily those with lower levels of education.
For these families, the impetus is on us as a community to help our 6,000 still unemployed workers secure the education and family-sustaining employment opportunities they need to make up for lost time in the workplace.
Thanks to the incredible series of partnerships that comprise the Workforce Talent Collaborative, we, as a community, are in the perfect position to help these students and families recover lost time and money.
From the Career and Technical Education leaders in our school districts and Doña Ana Community College and NMSU’s new Economic Development Council to our nonprofits, like the Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico’s Thriving Families pilot, and the voice and involvement of businesses individually and through the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, we are moving as one to build out our “ecosystem of opportunity.”
We need our youth, young adults, and displaced workers to find the best possible career destinations right here. To learn more about our talent pathways and where employers most need well-qualified workers, visit NewMexicoTrueTalent.org. It’s a one-stop shop to the best careers in our region, along with the education and training to help you get where you want to go.
Collaboration is what has always defined our county…it’s why we do things that other communities in New Mexico haven’t been able to accomplish. It’s our strength, and it makes economic recovery possible.
Tracey Bryan is president/CEO of The Bridge of Southern New Mexico. She can be reached at TraceyBryan@thebridgeofsnm.org