Guest Column: Education and the economy

By Kristi Pollard, Executive Director, Grand Junction Economic Partnership

As the chief organization tasked with job creation in Mesa County, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership is regularly asked how the community can support the creation of a vibrant, sustainable economy. The response is simple: support K-12 education. Delivering quality education to young residents is the foundation of every economic development effort, and without a concerted effort to strengthen K-12 education and make it a priority in Mesa County, our economic development efforts will fail.

Weak investment in K-12 education is the most common reason for businesses and professionals to move past Mesa County as a consideration for their operations or future job pursuits. Professionals want to know that there is a strong commitment to educating their children and their employees’ children. Employers also want to know that there is a consistent pipeline of talent being fed into the local universities. Professionals seek communities that make education the core of their economic development values.

In Mesa County, we have been blessed with a Superintendent and School Board that understand these principals and are willing to be teammates in the community’s economic development efforts. But, there is a lot of work to be done. And, quite frankly, we have no time to lose. Businesses are choosing new locations for expansion every day. And, in a number of instances, Mesa County is being passed over because of a below-par education system.

In addition to recruiting new businesses, there are some very sound economic reasons for making K-12 a community priority. To begin, data shows that having less education can limit an individual’s earnings prospects. A student who drops out of high school can expect to earn approximately $20,241 per year, while a high school graduate can expect to earn approximately $30,241 per year. Throw in a bachelor’s degree and the average salary jumps to $56,000 per year. Keeping our kids interested, engaged and fully participating in their education is critical to their future earnings potential.

A community that proactively invests in education up front – keeping their students in school and providing them with a quality education – will also save money on the back-end. According to a recent article by Dr. Matthew Lynch, author of The Call to Teach, it is estimated that over half of all Americans on public assistance are high school dropouts. Couple that with the fact that 80 percent of our nation’s incarcerated population are also high school dropouts. Take a second and let those numbers sink in and ask yourself what you and your community can do to prevent this. The ramifications of not providing a quality education to our students are profound.

Sadly, the ramifications don’t stop at public assistance. Our homeland security is at risk as well. As a nation, we have not placed a high enough value on educating our students. According to a report done by the Council on Foreign Relations that was submitted to the Department of State in 2012, 75 percent of all U.S. citizens between 17 and 24 years of age cannot pass military entrance exams due to education, obesity or criminal record. The report went on to state that these alarming statistics pose five threats to national security:

  1. Economic Growth and Competitiveness,
  2. Physical Safety,
  3. Intellectual Property,
  4. U.S. Global Awareness, and
  5. U.S. Unity and Cohesion

The Council for a Strong America, which is a nonprofit made up of law enforcement, retired military admirals and generals, pastors and coaches, has continued to update the metrics used for the “Readiness Index” and Colorado still has 70 percent who are not considered “ready” to serve and cannot pass the basic exam.

There are 101 reasons why we as a community should support education. Education is at the core of everything we as a community and nation strive to be. Today, I’m imploring each of you – moms, dads, business owners and interested community members – we need your help with ensuring that School District 51 is the best it can possibly be. Together, we can make Mesa County known as innovative and pioneering, and a community that is not willing to settle for mediocrity. We can be known as a community that will fight to make our schools first priority.