Education Key to Success for Both Students and Businesses

Aug 31, 2012 4:30 PM ET

Education Key to Success for Both Students and Businesses

High school graduation is one of life's milestones that is worthy of celebration and recognition. Yet for far too many students, their formal education ends when they receive their diplomas. This lack of postsecondary education is poised to drastically affect the talent market. More than two-thirds of new job openings in the previous decade required some postsecondary education, and by 2018, 63 percent of all jobs will require some form of higher education or training.

For this reason, the business community needs to do our part to help Birmingham's young people gain access to that critical credential -- a college education. And one of the greatest contributions we can make is helping students envision themselves as college-ready.

Here in Birmingham, Ernst & Young LLP and the nonprofit College for Every Student have collaborated with Restoration Academy to help make college a reality. We call this collaboration College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence), and it is part of a national program in 11 U.S. cities that brings teams of Ernst & Young mentors to high schools in under-served communities to mentor and guide students on their journey to college.

The administrators and teachers at Restoration Academy have a deep commitment to their students. College MAP builds on the foundation set at Restoration, with dedicated Ernst & Young volunteers meeting regularly with the students to provide ongoing mentoring on college access issues such as researching schools, selecting a major, writing college application essays, applying for financial aid and identifying scholarship opportunities. CFES contributes expertise in the college admissions process and provides the tools to help students prepare for -- and succeed in -- college. With support from families, schools and communities, we have worked together to help these students open doors to a future they never envisioned.

Many of the Ernst & Young volunteers are first-generation college graduates who understand the challenges students face when considering higher education. Financial concerns are significant, and the economic downturn has increased fears of access to college funds, with nearly 60 percent of students using self-funding to pay for higher education. Plus, borrowing has become more difficult for families and students with limited or no credit history. Yet consider this troubling fact: In the United States, where a bachelor's degree can translate to an additional $1.1 million in income over the course of a lifetime, just 6 percent of low-income students earn one by the age of 24.

This is not good enough -- not just for us as business leaders, but for these children, for their families and for the future of our city. The business acumen in Birmingham is high. Our expectations are higher. Helping young people gain access to education should be a top priority for businesses to ensure the presence of a skilled work force. The success of programs like College MAP -- 100 percent of participants at Restoration Academy will attend college in the fall -- demonstrates the power that mentoring and advocacy can have in the lives of young people.

The work of CFES and Ernst & Young at Restoration Academy is not done, nor is it done for the 11 seniors who graduated and are headed off to college. High school graduation is not a finish line for these students, but an important milestone on a path to a better life through education.