Education Is the Currency That Matters

While the U.S. sent more than 500 athletes to London, back home, 7,000 students dropped out in just one day. Those athletes represented our nation, but so do the young people who drop out of school.
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While we're awash in debate about the future direction of our country, there should be no question that education and the long-term success of young people must be a top priority. With just three out of four teenagers graduating high school on time, and an unemployment rate for dropouts ranging from 15 to 40 percent depending on their age and location, we need no further proof that education is the antidote for a struggling economy. Our nation's future will be determined by whether the next generation can support themselves. The harsh reality is that too many Americans today simply don't have the education and workforce training necessary to do that.

The recent Olympic Games reminded us about the sheer power of perseverance and hard work. What those athletes accomplished at such young ages serve as a reminder of the incredible potential of our youth and of our responsibility as adults to do everything we can to nurture them throughout each stage of their lives. Nowhere is our failure to support young people more evident than in the dismal high school graduation rate. A 75.5 percent national graduation rate won't win us any medals -- in fact, it won't even get us to the finish line. If we don't change course, we'll inherit 12 million more dropouts by the year 2022. And while the U.S. sent more than 500 athletes to London, back home, 7,000 students dropped out in just one day. Those athletes represented our nation, but so do the young people who drop out of school. They also represent the promise and potential of our future, if we can come together to get all of our kids on a path to prosperity. Thankfully, we have lots of reasons to be hopeful.

Lost in the macro reporting on education and the economy are the young people and communities who are beating the odds. As we look at the winners of this year's 100 Best Communities for Young People competition presented by America's Promise Alliance and ING U.S., we find there's much more to this story.

In Louisville, Ky., a six-time 100 Best winner, where just 27 percent of the population has a secondary education, the mayor's office and Metro Chamber of Commerce established a program called 55,000 Degrees to raise education levels in the city. Their goal: 40,000 more bachelor's degrees and 15,000 more associate degrees in their community by 2020. Their efforts don't stop there. To further instill a higher education culture, Louisville also redesigned its high schools to provide nurturing Freshmen Academies and smaller learning communities around five career themes. They also work with the business community to make college more affordable for students through grant and scholarship programs.

Thousands of miles away in Honolulu, Hawaii, they are working toward a goal of 55 percent of working adults in the state attaining two- or four-year college degrees by 2025.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring stories is that of Kyle Harris. Kyle is 16 years old from Battle Ground, Wash., and she lost several friends to suicide last year and channeled that harrowing experience into something good for herself and her community. She created "A Walk to Stop" to raise awareness of teen suicide. Hundreds of people participated, and thousands of dollars were raised to support suicide prevention programs. Kyle single-handedly changed the trajectory of her community.

These are just three examples from across the country, and as a nation we can learn from them. No doubt, their example reminds us that young people are our greatest currency. They, too, can be champions -- for themselves, their families, and our nation.

Alma and Colin Powell are chair and founding chair of America's Promise Alliance, the nation's largest partnership network devoted to improving the lives of the nation's young people. To learn more about the 100 Best competition or see the full list of winning communities, visit:

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