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How Community and Business Partnerships Have Increased Montana’s Graduation Rate

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November 16, 2016

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When I launched Graduation Matters Montana to ensure more students graduate from high school, it was never just about a number. The initiative, now in 58 Montana communities, has always been about making sure students who graduate are ready for college, the military and careers. It’s also been about making sure all students create a path forward while they’re still in high school.

I see incredible examples of this all across our state thanks to collaboration among Graduation Matters Montana communities, educators, nonprofit organizations and more than 450 local businesses.

Students in Hamilton can earn their CNAs while still in high school because of a partnership among Hamilton High, Bitterroot College and the Greater Valley Foundation. In Polson, juniors and seniors can get internships with St. Joseph’s Medical Center, rotating through clinical and administrative departments to give students a real-world taste of working at a hospital. In Great Falls, students at Paris Gibson Education Center can spend half of their day at Montana State University Great Falls working toward a certification in welding or construction. Billings and Bozeman have career centers for students. Missoula has its Health Science Academy. Libby and Troy are launching a trades-focused public charter program.

In each corner of our state, innovative programs are in place to get students on the path toward meaningful careers that will provide them a bright future and benefit Montana’s economy.

I’m proud to say that more Montana students are graduating from high school than ever before. In fact, Montana’s record-high graduation rate of 86 percent bests the national record of 83.2. This has been deliberate, community-based work that will positively impact all Montanans.

It’s also work that has been done without state or federal funding. Graduation Matters Montana has received more than $1.3 million in private foundation and business contributions, allowing us to seed-fund projects in Montana’s 58 Graduation Matters communities. During the last six years, more than 11,000 Montana students have taken the pledge to graduate, some schools do this as early as elementary school, pairing young children with high school students giving both added motivation to reach their goal.

Graduation Matters Montana is rooted in the idea that all Montanans benefit when our children succeed. The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates Montana will see a $6 million annual boost to the state’s economy because 540 more students graduated in 2015 than in 2009.

Over the last year, we’ve placed an increased emphasis on making sure Montana’s new graduates are prepared for life after high school. We’ve raised the academic bar in English, math, art, health enhancement and science. We’ve also worked with a coalition of educators and business professionals to develop a career readiness guide for Montana’s schools.

Educators have long had clear guidance on what it means to be college ready, it’s always been more difficult to determine a career ready framework. Now, we can offer guidance on ways to measure whether a student is ready to step into the workforce – which will be a valuable tool for teachers and students and their families.

Awesome things happen when all of us work together toward a common goal. To me, there is no greater challenge and no cause more worthy than setting up the next generation for success. When our students proudly walk across that stage on graduation day, each will have a diploma in one hand and a plan for the future in the other.