We want more of Oklahoma’s young people to become part of the workforce that benefits from changing technology and is not punished by it. The programs we are developing are designed to help more of our young people get an advanced education so when they begin their careers they will have more that a high school diploma and not be trapped in ranks of the precariously employed with few prospects of living a middle class life. Helping these kids is also important for future of Oklahoma. We must build a better educated workforce needs if our state is going to thrive in this new, technology driven economy.
The Problem We are Facing in Oklahoma
The economy of Oklahoma is changing rapidly. In 2016, 47% of the jobs in the state required only a high school education and graduating from high school gave people a lot of opportunities for entry level jobs where you could gain experience and advance your career. But by 2028, the percentage of jobs open to high school graduates is projected to drop to 23% according to the Oklahoma State System for Higher Education. This change in educational requirements for Oklahoma’s employers is being driven by advances in artificial intelligence that has led to the development of new machines that are expected to replace workers doing manual labor. This trend started with the introduction of robotics in manufacturing and is now moving to other businesses like food services where they are automating kitchens with robots that can prepare food, unexpected areas like the skilled trades where a robot can lay bricks and agriculture where GPS systems autonomously drive tractors in the fields. A study by the Brookings Institution is forecasting that as technology drives people out of the middle class, they will go into one of two directions. Those with the right skills and education move into what they are calling the technological elite. Everyone else falls into a portion of the workforce in low wage jobs with few benefits or protections, where roles change frequently as technology regularly replaces lower skilled workers. Automation of low skilled jobs is happening at the same time as the erosion of government safety nets that make the precariousness of these jobs even less tolerable.
This rapidly changing technology means that 77% of the Oklahoma’s high school graduates will need some kind of post high school education and training if the state is going to have the workforce we need to compete. But figures published by the Oklahoma Department of Education in 2016 show only 49% of students in the state go on to a two or a four-year college versus 69% nationwide. This year OSU’s student enrollment declined by 2% and the school had to eliminate faculty raises because of the reduced revenue. The same trend is happened at other colleges and universities in our state. Tulsa public schools are above the state average at 59% driven by schools like Booker T. Washington and Edison that are at 85% compared to schools like McLain, Central and Rogers that are below the state average at around 40%. These are the schools YPNG will be targeting.
One of the things that drives down the numbers for these schools is the high percentage of low incomes families where few family members have attended college. Consequently, students don’t see many examples of people like them who were able to elevate their lives by going to college and don’t have an expectation they can afford college.
The trend of a lower percentage of high school graduates going to college or getting some other kind of training is also being driven by the changing ethnic makeup of students attending Oklahoma’s public schools. This year the statewide ethnic composition of Oklahoma’s school system is 30% Hispanic, 20% African American and 10% other minorities. The percentages at McLain are 35.8% Hispanic, 45.9% African American, 1.5% Asian, 7.6% White, 2.8% Native American, 6.8% Multiracial. What we used to call minorities in Oklahoma have become the majority of kids in our school systems. These groups historically have had a higher proportion of low-income families. But there is an additional language problem for many Hispanic parents that makes it difficult for them fill out their part of their children’s college applications and applications for scholarships and grants that would allow their children to afford college.
Another contributor to the problem is the huge reduction in the number of high school career and college counselors per student. Funding cuts by the state meant that money had to be taken away from counseling programs and put into the classroom. This ratio of students to counselors has grown to 438 to 1 statewide and has been running about 450 to 1 at TPS. The American School Counselor Association recommends no more than 250 to 1. These cuts mean there are fewer counselors available to help the students choose a good career path, apply to colleges and look for financial aid.
Our Inclusive Program
Relatable Role Models for Minority Students.
We intend to start our program at McLain. We will help these students build a positive self-image by showing students examples of alumni who used education to elevate their lives and getting them involved in the process. We have established a McLain page on our website and purchased podcast recording equipment for the McLain students so they can record and post their own podcasts interviewing McLain Seniors who have been accepted to college and McLain grads currently in college. We are collaborating with the broadcast journalism students at Tulsa Community College to do podcasts with more role models relatable to them that will be available on our site.
Outside programs have not yet been successful fully engaging Hispanics. This has to change. Hispanic students represent the largest ethnic group in our public school system and as they graduate will transform the makeup of Oklahoma’s workforce. For this reason, we are focusing on ways to more effectively work with the Hispanic community. Francisco Travino is a member of YPNG’s Board. Francisco is a recognized as a successful Hispanic leader. He was formerly President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is currently the head of Casa del la Cultura, that runs a wide range of Hispanic programs. He is helping us developing develop ways that will better engage Hispanic students and their parents. For example, we will be having programs where there can be a cultural exchange between Hispanic families and other families at McClain and will bring in Hispanic professionals for the Career Day we are organizing at Mclain who can talk to students and their parents so they can see there are a variety of professional career paths open to Hispanics and ways to help finance that education.
Students will be part of the design and operation of the program and will be doing surveys and interviews they will present to us to help improve our programs
The McLain Alumni Association and Foundation has said they would help us recruit alumni who went on to college to give the kids examples of people who grew up in the same circumstances and elevated their lives by getting a good education.