Oregon’s ailing graduation rate

Oregon ranks near the bottom of the national heap for on-time high school graduation. Only 75 percent of Oregon students graduated on time in 2016. That’s a gain of 3 percentage points since 2014, but still leaves Oregon at No. 48 among the states and District of Columbia.

Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, also hit the 75 percent on-time graduation rate in 2016 following a 2-percentage point bump over the previous year.

The impact of career learning

Though Oregon’s graduation rate is nothing to shout about, there’s reason to cheer a different trend. In Oregon, students enrolled in Career Technical Education programs are 15.5 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school in four years than students who do not take the courses, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

Plenty of jobs for the well prepared

Job growth is on the rise in the Portland region, yet many employers say they have trouble finding qualified candidates for job openings. Thousands of highly skilled workers are aging in key industry sectors, which means greater opportunities for younger ones. For those with the right education and experience, this means bright prospects in tech, manufacturing, construction and health care.

“Addressing the mismatch between the skills of available workers and current and projected jobs is the fundamental challenge facing the region’s workforce efforts.”

from the Columbia-Willamette Workforce Collaborative, workforce report (2016)

Hot spots in local hiring

A 2016 report on the state of the workforce in the Portland-Vancouver region projects significant job growth in key areas such as health care (23%), construction (26.5%) and software/IT (32.5%) into the middle of the next decade.

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Notable research

“Studies show that aligning high school standards to college and workplace expectations is a critical step toward giving students a solid foundation in the academic, social and workplace skills needed for success in postsecondary education or a career.”

— from the National Conference of State Legislatures, dropout prevention

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Career education replaces the old method of vocational education, which featured low-level courses and single electives. High-quality career and technical education involves “academically rigorous, integrated and sequenced programs of study that align with and lead to postsecondary education. These programs provide students with opportunities to acquire the competencies required in today’s workplace – such as critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, innovation, teamwork and communication – and to learn about different careers by experiencing work and workplaces.”

— from the College & Career Readiness & Success Center at the nonpartisan American Institutes for Research (2013)

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Oldies but goodies

“While most dropouts blame themselves for failing to graduate, there are things that they say schools can do to help them finish: Four out of five students (81%) said that there should be more opportunities for real world learning and some in the focus groups called for more experiential learning. They said students need to see the connection between school and getting a good job.”

— from “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts,” Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2006) 

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“Academic preparation is necessary but not sufficient, however, in helping low-income students enroll in and graduate from college. Expectations about college attendance are important with one in particular standing out: a student’s expectation that a college degree will be essential to pursue his or her desired career. Students who make this connection are six times more likely to earn their degree than those who did not.”

— from “Reclaiming the American Dream,” The Bridgespan Group (2006)