With the U.S. economy recovering from a deadly recession, education becomes more and more important for low-income families. While cuts in education funding are reducing opportunities for middle class and poor families, AT&T has decided to make a difference with its ASPIRE program, which seeks to help more students graduate from high school and prepare them for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors in college and for technology-based careers.
According to 2011 educational attainment data from the Census Bureau, the percentage of African Americans 18 years and older with only a high school diploma was 34%. The percentage of Hispanics with only a high school diploma was 30.3%, while the percentage for White Americans was 30.5%. The percentage of African Americans whose highest educational level was a bachelor’s degree was 11.8%. For Hispanics that percentage was 8.9%, while the percentage of Whites was 20.5%.
The gap is even wider at the masters level. The percentage of African Americans capping out at this level was 4.4%. The percentage for Hispanics was 2.4% at the master’s level while the percentage of White Americans with the highest attainment at the master’s level was 8.1%.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson notes that “we are interviewing 11 people to find one qualified candidate.” This lack of skilled workers could put AT&T at a disadvantage relative to other tech companies, which outsource heavily to foreign countries.
Responding to this shortage of skilled American workers, AT&T started the ASPIRE program in 2008 and has made an additional $350 million dollar investment in the initiative over the next 4 years. With that investment, AT&T will:
– use technology to connect with students in new and more effective ways, including interactive gamification and Web-based content and social media.
– take a “socially innovative” approach to tackle high school success and college/career readiness for students at-risk of dropping out of high school.
– tap the innovation engine of the AT&T Foundry to look for fresh or atypical approaches to educational obstacles.
– capitalize on the power of personal connections in the form of mentoring, internships and other voluntary efforts that involve many of AT&T’s approximately 260,000 employees, and engage our customers in the issue.
So far, the ASPIRE program has impacted almost 1 million U.S. high school students, helping to prepare them for college and the workplace. More and more U.S. companies have complained that while Americans are looking for work, there aren’t enough qualified candidates to fill the positions that are indeed available. Programs like ASPIRE seek to close this gap. As the global economy shifts from industrial jobs to ones requiring more technical skills, programs like ASPIRE can help to prepare American workers for the future.
Another factor driving the need for programs like ASPIRE is the transition from landlines to wireless. AT&T, whose workforce was largely trained in a landline world, needs workers with newer, more up-to-date technical skills. Through ASPIRE’s job-shadowing program, over 100,000 high school students have had the opportunity to follow mentors at dozens of AT&T workplaces throughout the country. A recent Junior Achievement study found that 8 out of 10 high school students are more likely to graduate after participating in a job-shadowing program such as ASPIRE.
AT&T has partnered with the Department of Education and America’s Promise Alliance to further their efforts. Companies such as Exxon Mobil and Google have also created initiatives to support STEM development in students. We need more. American students are often less prepared than their world counterparts in these key educational areas. Investments from companies are a big step in the right direction.