The Diploma to College to Career Mismatch

Written By:  Reagan Flowers, PhD

It appears that minority students are less likely to enroll in college, remain in college, and are more likely to go directly to work post high school.  Factors impacting their choices to attend college are finances, access to opportunities, awareness, proper preparation, supportive networks, and exposure.  And for many minorities enrolled in college, they are first generation.

According to NCES, minority students are obtaining their high-school diplomas with completion rates in the U.S. for Hispanic’s being 76.3% and 72.5% for Black students. However, nationally these percentages are not representative of the number of minority students enrolling in colleges, 17% Hispanic and 14% Black.

The mismatch in the numbers does cause one to wonder how this has come to be.  I wonder if today’s high school graduates have determined that they will yield less of a return on their investment in a college degree if it is not in a STEM field.  Additionally, I wonder if high school graduates see more of an income advantage in forgoing a college degree and going directly to work in a blue-collar STEM field.  Looking further into gender numbers, there are more females enrolling in college than males.  The low enrollment numbers of males in college suggests that they experience more pressure to earn wages right after high school as opposed to females. The practicality of forgoing college long-term, in most instances, is not good. Such decisions create economic gaps and stagnation.

A growing trend are student success programs that colleges are putting in place to increase minority student enrollment and completion rates.  There are designated institutions such as HBCUs, MSIs, and HSIs that are intentionally and thoughtfully creating environments to improve their overall numbers.  And, there are groups such as AHSIEHBCU Faculty Development Network, and PennGSE Center for Minority Serving Institutions that are sharing best practices to help move the needle.

A recent presentation of C-STEMs research on minorities and females attitudes towards STEM education and careers at an AHSIE conference was fairly consistent with common themes being expressed by colleges from across the U.S.  We are not short on problems to solve, are working to eliminate the mismatches, and are increasingly using technology to identify and trigger responses to student academic and social challenges, sooner rather than later.

2012 Commencement Speech: East Side High School

Class of 2012

When I look out at you, I am looking at me.

As I once sat where you sit today without knowing that this day would come, providing me an opportunity to speak with you on your graduation day.

My mind is flooded with memories of what my day was like when I graduated from East Side High School in 1989 and I sat where you sit today full of emotion and tears because I had worked so hard to cross that finish line.

And I have tried desperately to recall who my commencement speaker was and the speech that was delivered to my class, and I have no recollection, no memory.

So today, I have decided that I would not deliver a speech, that I would deliver a message

Because when I look out at you, I am looking at me.

And, I wonder would I have remembered my class commencement speaker had he or she shared something that I needed to here to addressed what was going on in my mind and my heart when I sat where you sit today.

In my message to you all, I hope to reassure you, inspire you, encourage you, challenge you, and tell you something that you need to hear from someone else to confirm for yourself that you are on the right track.

Some of you are afraid of the unknown. I am here to tell you that your fear is normal.  Don’t let it cripple or hinder you.  You will be okay.  Take the next step

Some of you do not have family to support you through college. Don’t let the lack of money or understanding stop you.  You will figure it out.  You will make it through.

Some of you are in doubt.  Know that within you are the skills and work ethic that is required to move forward towards your destiny. You are ready.

Some of you are worried about being successful.   The journey to reaching your goals will not be easy.  You will fail at some things, but don’t worry; you will rise and continue towards the finish line.

Some of you will be moving to a new city with no friends or family.  Your Faith in God will carry you through.

Some of you wonder if your life has purpose.  It does.  Everything happens in your life for a reason, season, or a lifetime.  You will honor each day and make the most of every opportunity.

Some of you have not decided what is next for you after this glorious day, might I suggest that you make a decision to take charge of your life by either applying to a college, the military, trade school, or for a job, and if you have not registered to vote, do so.

The bottom line in my message to you is to do something meaningful with your life.

I stand before you, having beat the odds. I grew up poor.  From Sunset Village to East Gate. I failed the second grade, I made it to the fifth grade without knowing my multiplication tables, I have been homeless, I finished high school in three years, I am the first to graduate high school and college in my immediate family, I earned my Ph.D., I am the CEO of my own company, I have authored two books, I have a wonderful husband, I have a beautiful church home, I am running for public office, and I have impacted the lives of more than 50,000 children.

I stand before you because I had teachers, who cared, inspired, encouraged, challenged, and held me accountable.

I stand before you as a living example that you can achieve with your life more than you ever dreamed for yourself.

I stand before you as a living example that others will invest in you to help you accomplish your dreams if you demonstrate through your efforts your commitment to achieving your goals in life.

I work on my legacy daily.

Doing nothing is not an option; too many have endured so much to afford us the opportunities we have today.

And so many coming behind you are counting on you in order that they too have a chance at success.

In this world in which we live today, you have no reasons or excuses for not being the best you can be.

I am a living example, as are many others across the globe.

As I bring this message to a close, I want to leave you with the 3 D’s,

Do, Delegate, and Delete…

Do, what is required,

Delegate, what others can do for you,

And Delete, what hinders you from accomplishing your goals,

You are finishing yet one chapter of your life story today, keep writing your story and create your legacy.

Remember the 3 D’s…Do, Delegate, and Delete,

Be the Change you want to see.  Because you can…

Congratulations Class of 2012, Job well done…