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Education today/Steve Patchin

Student success and economic prosperity lies in the ‘Soft Skills’ training

November 27, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

The United States ranks ninth in the world in percentage of students enrolled in college and last in the percentage that actually earn a degree, according to a recent study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The U.S. Department of Labor states 34 million Americans older than 24 have earned some college credit but no degree, a number that has grown by 700,000 annually for the last three years. Of those individuals 24 to 35 years old, the youngest group to have completed college, the unemployment rate for those earning a diploma is 4.1 percent compared to those dropping out after completing some collegiate course work at 9.8 percent (those who only received a high school diploma experienced a 11.1 percent unemployment rate).

A 2011 study by the Institute of Higher Education Policy found that of the 1.8 million borrowers whose student loan payments began in 2005, 58 percent of the loan recipients had not earned a degree. Of these non-degree earners, 58 percent were delinquent on their loans compared to 38 percent of those earning a diploma. With the rising cost of college tuition, many students are working part-time/full-time jobs to help cover living expenses and tuition, a factor found to increase the odds of dropping out of college.

A 2011 study by the Complete College America nonprofit group examined the graduation rate for full-time college students, allowing students up to six years to graduate from college. Results found the graduation rate for: students from low-income families - 45.2 percent; African-Americans - 39.9 percent; students 25 or older when they enroll - 27 percent. For part-time students these rates were even lower, partially attributed to the longer time period needed to accrue the needed courses to graduate.

Dan Jones, president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors ties the struggles of younger students to their personal skill set.

"Millennials have had helicopter parents who have protected them. They haven't had the opportunity to struggle. When they come to college and bad things happen, they haven't developed resiliency and self-soothing skills,"?Jones said."

Chicago-based non-profit OneGoal has categorized these "soft skills" in its Five Principles of Leadership which include: resilience, ambition, resourcefulness, integrity and professionalism. OneGoal is developing curriculum for students in each of the 20 high schools it controls with the mission to develop each individual student's problem-solving skills and ambition.

In 2010, the Department of Labor found that the annual earnings of Americans age 24 to 34 employed full time with some college courses completed was $32,900 while those achieving a college degree earned $45,000 annually. It is true that earning a degree is not a guarantee of employment, with the labor department citing 1.9 million unemployed college graduates in October, but most economists agree that earning a bachelor's degree it the clearest path to become a member of the American middle class. Imagine how an increase in the collegiate completion rate would impact household income, spending power, workforce capability,and the level of intellectual capital available to corporations in the United States? Programs that develop the resolve and problem solving skills in our youth are a key component in achieving this desired goal.

Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.



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