An estimated 100,000 adults in St. Paul and Minneapolis don’t have a high school diploma or GED. That represents significant lost potential — both for the individuals and for the region’s economy. The education deficit keeps thousands in poverty, forever restricted to either government dependence or working the lowest-paying jobs.
But a worthy public-private partnership and fundraising effort seeks to change that economic disparity.
Summit Academy’s “1,000 GED Campaign” has already raised more than $2 million toward a goal of $5 million to provide 1,000 low-income Minnesotans with education and job training. Major contributions have come from U.S. Bank, Target, Thrivent Financial, the Otto Bremer Trust and MSP Win. And the state contributed $1.5 million to the campaign as part of the 2017 jobs bill. The campaign can help expand the good work already being done by Summit Academy OIC, a 21-year-old Minneapolis program that offers job training to primarily low-income people of color.
Summit Academy has demonstrated success by serving 750 adults each year in the construction and health care fields. The average participant comes to the program earning less than $10,000 a year; average wages of graduates are about $32,000 annually, and 82 percent are still employed three years post-enrollment. A Rainbow Research study found a direct savings to taxpayers of $1.96 for every dollar invested in Summit.
The campaign fits well with the North@Work program that helps African-American north Minneapolis men train for, find and keep gainful employment. Just over half of the black men under 65 (about 5,600) in that part of the city are unemployed. To change that, Northside Funders Group hopes to move 2,000 people into living-wage jobs by 2020.
Just think about what the region and state would look like if several thousand people and families were moved out of poverty every year. A Metropolitan Council study showed that if Minneapolis and St. Paul were to eliminate disparities, there would be 124,000 more people with jobs and 274,000 fewer people in poverty.
The push to “grow our own’’ skilled workforce comes at an opportune time. Minnesota is experiencing a worker shortage and shouldn’t have to recruit from other parts of the country or the world to fill available good-paying positions. Summit Academy’s guiding principle is: “The best social service program in the world is a job.” We couldn’t agree more.