By Katie Erdman
We live in a world that values education. It has been a priority in this country its entire existence. Minnesota also places a high value on education, setting standards and goals. Stevens County could be looked at as a "university" county, having set a higher education base early with the West Central School of Agriculture and the University of Minnesota, Morris campus.
Even though education has always been important throughout our country, state and county, the degree to which it is valued has been changing. We are starting to shift to an economy that demands education. Knowledge is geared toward specific fields of study, from operating a computer or welding on an assembly line to researching our natural resources and educating our future leaders.
The Stevens FORWARD! Stewards recognized the value of education and included it in one of their Destiny Drivers.
The goal they have set in this Destiny Driver is: "Over the next 10 years, the county will maintain the highest percentage of high school students in Minnesota going on to higher education."
Ben Winchester, of the Center for Small Towns at UMM and the Steward for this Destiny Driver said he is seeking a "Champion" for it.
Winchester has compiled some numbers from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and the Minnesota Department of Education. With this information, he created a table showing the graduation rate for communities in Stevens County and number of graduates going on to obtain post secondary education in Minnesota. He also compared these numbers to the state rate.
Over the last four years, the county has seen above-average numbers in graduation rates but below-average rates in the higher education. These numbers have been slowly increasing over the years which is some cause for optimism.
One missing piece of data could have an affect on the results, he said. The numbers are only for students going on to get their post secondary education at Minnesota schools. Therefore, any Stevens County graduate or, similarly, any Minnesota graduate who went on to a college, university or technical college in another state would not be included in these numbers.
He added that it is nearly impossible to track down those statistics so measuring the Destiny Driver could be difficult. However, that does not take anything away from the accomplishment and importance of the goal, he said.
The next question might then be, how would a Champion work to achieve the goal.
Winchester said that encouraging young people to go on to obtain higher education could be accomplished by educating them about the importance of gaining a higher education in the world today and how it could affect their lives.
He said that a four-year college degree in today's work place is equivalent to what a high school diploma was in the 1960s. Potential employers look for post-secondary education on resumes, in some cases not even considering applicants without some type of college degree.
According to the Census Bureau, over an adult's working life, high school graduates earn an average of $1.2 million; associate's degree holders earn about $1.6 million; and bachelor's degree holders earn about $2.1 million.
With these numbers in mind, the $40,000 a student may spend on a four-year degree is a great investment.
In order to encourage post-secondary education, the champion of this Destiny Driver could potentially hold special meetings with the students. Speakers from area businesses could be invited to talk to the students about salaries paid for employees with degrees compared to those paid to workers without degrees to stress the value of higher education.
There could also be a network developed to help families with financial aid forms, college applications and scholarship options. Information on grants and loans could be shared and discussed.
One of the biggest hurdles might be educating students that college is not just four years of work but a lifetime benefit. It challenges the mind, focuses drive and tests endurance.
The value of education needs to be stressed at an early age but can also be done at any age level. It is never too late to go back to school. Learning does not end at graduation and as the world changes, we need to be prepared for it. To best do this we need to "learn how to learn."
Are you a 'Champion'?
stewards are seeking "Champions" -- people who want to get involved in the initiative and
spearhead a Destiny Driver. For more information, visit the Stevens FORWARD! Web site at www.stevensforward.org, or contact Coordinator Roger McCannon
via email at:
email@example.com, or by phone at