RICHARDSON: The five-step plan

June 1, 2014 

“When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.”

-- Will Rogers

There’s some controversy over who said the above quote first, but Rogers is famous for cleverly addressing complicated issues with plain language anyone can understand so I give him the nod.

Last weekend, high schools all over Middle Georgia held graduations. It’s a great time for families and friends. Some hoop and holler (a bit too much) and pictures fly over social media the instant the great moment occurs. Graduates have reason to be proud, as this is a step to that great successful life they’ve heard about all their lives.

But there is another group, and many of them show up at graduation, too. They’ll not walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. Somewhere along the line they decided school was not for them and they dropped out.

I don’t know when the switch was flipped. Though I’ve killed off millions of brain cells, I can’t remember the word “dropout” ever being uttered. Dropping out of high school was not an option.

Back to the quote. The first thing a person has to do is realize they are in a hole. That’s more difficult than you would think. Roughly 40 percent of the students in Bibb County who don’t complete high school each year are blissfully unaware they are in a hole that’s getting deeper with each passing second.

The Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., released a study based on Labor Department statistics that answered the question: Is a college degree really worth it?

I know I’m talking about high school graduation, not college, but hang in there. In today’s world it’s hard to get to the college graduation stage without first finishing high school. There is a double lesson in the study. It’s not just for those who didn’t finish high school but for those who did.

As fast-food workers demonstrate about their wages, a college graduate made 98 percent more per hour than a high school graduate in 2013. That’s 9 points up from 2008. There’s no indication the trend won’t continue. Talk about an income gap. Actually, the study has a triple message. It’s also for those who think college is a bad economic deal considering the debt many students and families incur.

David Leonhardt’s Upshot column in The New York Times said it best: “The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anyone could make in 2014.” Amplify that statement 100-fold for high school dropouts.

So what if you’ve dropped out and don’t believe you’re in a hole. Trust me, you’re not only in a hole, but it’s filling with water. The terms underwater and upside down don’t just apply to mortgages and car loans.

How do can you stop digging? It’s actually easy.

Step 1. Head directly to Central Georgia Technical College and beg and plead to enroll in its GED program.

Step 2. Stick with it. Getting a GED is no piece of cake. It’s probably harder to get a GED than a high school diploma. It’s so hard you’ll rue the day you made that fateful decision to quit high school.

Step 3. Once in the program, get busy. Finish as quickly as you can (not always easy if life has happened, i.e., work, family, etc.)

Step 4. Plan for transitioning from a GED student to a college student.

Step 5. Don’t beat yourself up. Making the mistake of dropping out of high school is only devastating if you continue digging.

I know it’s only five steps and there will be plenty of obstacles lying in your path like IEDs. You won’t see them until it’s too late. Some, however, are in plain sight. Those same friends -- and family -- that dropped out with you -- your bros, posse or homies -- aren’t going understand, and like crabs, will try to drag you back down in the darkness of the bucket as soon as you hit Step 1.

Keep climbing. Look up toward where you are going, not down at where you’ve been.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at crichardson@macon.com. Tweet@crichard1020.

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