As the whirlwind of news surrounding the vast global economic crisis continues, I stopped to reflect on why providing an entrepreneurship education to low-income youth matters so much, especially now.
Entrepreneurship and innovation provide a way for students and professionals to overcome the global challenges of today, building sustainable development, creating jobs, generating renewed economic growth and advancing human welfare.
Many years ago, a graduate of The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and business owner, Michelle Araujo, summed it up:
My dream is not to die in poverty, but to have poverty die in me!
When we speak about entrepreneurship, we are defining it in the broadest terms and in all forms -- entrepreneurial people in large companies, in the public sector, in academia and, of course, those who launch and grow new companies. Now more than ever, we need innovation, new solutions, creative approaches and new ways of operating. We are in uncharted territory and need people in all sectors and at all ages who can "think out of the box" to identify and pursue opportunities in new paradigm-changing ways.
Power and influence in our country is granted to those who own -- own their own land, their own houses, and their own businesses. Yet interestingly enough, we teach our students to be employees and not business owners. Many high schools have job placement programs to help their students, but rarely do we see the possibility of entrepreneurship presented as an option. Many also fail to see the correlation between the health of the economy and the people who have a vested interest in its health: entrepreneurs.
Of equal importance is the simple fact that our country's 1.2 million dropouts costs over $329 billion in lost wages annually, according to Governor Bob Wise.
The decision to drop out is a one-million-dollar decision in lost wages for each child who makes it. Further, 90 percent of the fastest-growing employment categories in America require a college degree -- and these kids won't be able to compete. Then, even more jobs will have to go overseas.
In his research for The Silent Epidemic, author John Bridgeland interviewed high school dropouts and asked them why they dropped out of school:
**81% said they would not have dropped out if the subjects were more relevant to real life.
Teaching children how to make it financially (and we are strong proponents of the growing financial literacy movement), how to own their futures as economically productive members of society, is both real life and relevant. Getting business leaders into classrooms to share their expertise and optimism is a key component of entrepreneurial success. Youth entrepreneurship engages young people and gives them a good reason to go to school and then apply to their own lives. The drug war taught kids to say No to drugs; starting a legal enterprise is a concept our young people can say yes to.
In 2006, the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) released a critical report calling for a major overhaul of the country's educational system. A report titled "Tough Choices, Tough Times," written by YESG's Vice Chairman, Thomas Payzant, highlights the link between education and the economy and provides policy recommendations for America's schools.
In President Obama's speech that addressed the "No Child Left Behind Act" on March 10, Obama stated, "I am calling on our nation's Governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity."
Additionally, research by the Harvard Graduate School of Education has found that students, having taken a 50-plus-hour entrepreneurial course show: increased interest in furthering education and career aspirations; increased feeling of control over their lives; and increased leadership behaviors.
NFTE findings further indicate that these entrepreneurial courses: increase engagement in school; increase students' sense of connection with adults in business and the community; increase independent reading; and Increase business and entrepreneurial knowledge.
Research and findings prove the need, want and yearning from students to take control of their future through entrepreneurship education. We need to fast-track our work so we reach these kids and not lose another generation of students before we can teach them to fuel their dreams and have belief in their own potential. This in turn will reward our country handsomely, not only with a more educated workforce, but one that adds to and nurtures our economy's health - because it impacts their own.
We can't afford to let 1.2 million kids fail annually.
NFTE (www.NFTE.com) is a global non-profit organization that has been providing students in low-income communities with entrepreneurship education since 1987. Often described as a mini-MBA program, NFTE teaches real-world business knowledge to middle and high school students to help shape their future, whether it be higher education or the business world.