October 13, 2013

Early education key to success

Last week, I attended the Harry E. Salzberg Memorial Award Program at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Business. They honored Earle Congdon, the person responsible for growing Old Dominion Freight Lines into a major carrier. It’s an interesting story, and Earle is a great southern storyteller.

There was a dinner in Earle’s honor after the program. I was fortunate to be seated next to a Syracuse University student who was a graduate of Say Yes to Education. I learned from her that the focus of Say Yes is to increase high-school and college graduation rates of economically disadvantaged inner-city youths. Say Yes pledges full scholarships for students who graduate from the program and enroll in a college or vocational training program.

The program grew out of a commitment that philanthropist George Weiss made to 112 Philadelphia sixth graders in 1987. He told them he would pay their college tuition if they graduated from high school.

Our discussion prompted a broader dialogue among others at our table on why educational attainment is so important. We reached consensus that students who drop out are more likely to commit crimes and end up in prison.

The data supports that consensus. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, 56 percent of inmates in federal prison and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not graduate from high school.

Personally, I think the number of people with MBAs currently in federal “county club” prisons reduces the federal prison percentage.

In the end, we agreed that educational attainment was an excellent predictor of life success. I’m not breaking new ground here, but it costs a lot less to educate someone than it does to house, feed, clothe and provide medical care to an inmate.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that New York City’s annual cost per inmate was $167,731 a year, almost what it costs to go to an Ivy League university for four years.

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