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A Publication of WTVP

Nationwide, nearly one in three U.S. high school students fails to graduate with a diploma. Every year, approximately 1.2 million students drop out of high school, which is an average of 7,000 students per school day, or one student every 26 seconds. Among minority students, nearly 50 percent of African-American and Hispanic students are not completing high school on time, according to Dr. Christopher Swanson’s article, "Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap," published in the May 2009 edition of Education Week.

The social and economic issues facing our country today can best be addressed by educating many more people, not only through high school, but also beyond. By doing so, we will strengthen the economy, increase civic engagement, and reduce crime, poverty and lack of health care-in short, improve the human condition. We have learned that higher education is a prerequisite to success in our knowledge-based society and economy.

That economic development via education is what the local non-profit organization, Peoria Promise, is striving to attain. Educating the youth of Peoria by financially allowing all Peoria public school graduates to attend Illinois Central College will result in a more skilled and better educated workforce in the next two to three years.

Peoria Promise supported more than 240 students last year. As the 2009/2010 school year approaches, the organization is equipped to support over 330 students.

Post-secondary education is the United States’ workforce development system. Studies show that the United States is losing its international competitive edge because it is not producing enough two-year degree holders. These reports advocate a focus on community colleges to ensure that degrees are valued by the labor market. According to census.gov, in 2007, workers with only a high school diploma earned an average of $31,286; those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $57,181.

Students attending Illinois Central College with the help of Peoria Promise understand the importance of higher education and the impact it will have on their future. James McKee, a sophomore at ICC studying computer engineering, is one example. He states that attending college is an opportunity that would not have been possible without Peoria Promise. McKee has worked two jobs since his junior year of high school because his mother had a heart attack and a stroke, forcing her to stop working. McKee and his sister have held multiple jobs to help with the bills. McKee said, "I don’t think I could afford school right now if I didn’t have Peoria Promise…I wouldn’t have the courage or determination to pursue a career without it, so it’s allowing me to do that and make something of myself."

Another Peoria Promise student, Ana Victoria Huerta, is the first generation of her family to attend college, an opportunity that would have hurt her family financially without the aid of Peoria Promise. Huerta said, "I’m one of eight kids, so there was no hope for me without Peoria Promise." She will be starting her second year at Illinois Central College, where she is studying civil engineering arts and sciences, this fall.

Helping students like McKee and Huerta better themselves through education is made possible with the active engagement and support of many organizations and individuals. That is why Peoria Promise is reaching out for support from local businesses, individuals and others committed to making the promise of higher education a reality for hundreds more Peorians. To donate, please visit peoriapromise.org or send a check made payable to Peoria Promise to 331 Fulton St. Suite 310, Peoria, IL 61602.

In this difficult economic environment, Peorians should be proud of the fact that Peoria Promise continues to set Peoria apart as the only community in the state guaranteeing post-high-school education opportunities to all qualified public school graduates in the city. While our community and school district face some tough decisions in the short term, the long-term hope and economic differentiation of a better-educated population are destined to make Peoria a better place to live and raise a family. iBi

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