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Cuomo: A Job 'Guarantee' for Graduates

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In an effort to combat New York's high dropout rate, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo plans to initiate an ambitious project to "guarantee" a private-sector job for every New York high-school graduate who wants one, beginning next year, according to the Governor's education aide.

The plan, which is expected to be outlined in the Governor's state-of-the-state message next month, will "say to each gra6duate, 'There will be a job for you at the time you graduate,"' said the aide, Cornelius Foley.

The proposal is aimed at lowering the current statewide dropout rate of 25 percent. In New York City, the nation's largest school district, the rate is 40 percent.

Although other states--among them Delaware, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Tennessee--have initiated strong efforts to link schools and private-sector employers, experts in the job-training field say that New York's proposal would be the most far-reaching and innovative to date because of the large number of students involved.

Officials involved in state and local job-training efforts applauded Governor Cuomo's proposal, saying it would focus attention on school-business partnerships, but some were skeptical that the goal of a guaranteed job for every graduate could be achieved.

Details Not Available

No cost estimates on Governor Cuomo's proposal were available last week, nor was there an outline of the administrative mechanism for coordinating the effort. Mr. Foley said it was "still to be seen" whether the Governor would have to turn to the legislature for financial backing.

Nevertheless, he said, Mr. Cuomo hopes to begin a limited program next year. The Governor's goal is to unify some existing programs and provide "the leadership effort to bring schools and businesses together," Mr. Foley said.

"We are not necessarily talking about every single New York youngster," Mr. Foley said. "Some go on to college, some could find their own jobs. We are going to target those in 9th and 10th grade, who are not in vocational-education programs, in areas where the dropout rate is high."

Boston Compact

The New York plan, according to Mr. Foley, will be similar to the "Boston Compact," a partnership established in 1982 between Boston businesses and the city's public schools. Under a "contract" signed by Boston school officials and business leaders, the schools agreed to improve academic standards and decrease the dropout and absenteeism rates; business leaders--while not guaranteeing jobs--agreed to make an effort to hire local high-school graduates for vacant entry-level positions.

Mr. Foley said the New York plan would have "many of the same ingredients," but added, "We're talking about a much larger school system, a school system that has many more inherent problems." The Governor's proposal is "an ambitious plan fraught with many problems," he said.

Concept Stage

"At this stage, it's a concept," said Gordon M. Ambach, New York's commissioner of education. "In earlier statements the Governor has made, he's certainly placed a priority on completion of secondary school, and on the importance of transition to employment, but he has not offered any proposal as bold as this."

Mr. Ambach said he was "very confident that the educational system is well prepared and qualified to have more and more young people complete high school." He said his staff would work with the Governor's staff to help implement the program.

New York Partnership

New York Partnership, a privately funded nonprofit organization in New York City that helps coordinate private-sector and school partnerships, has been involved in planning the Governor's initiative, according to Peggy Dulany, senior vice president of the organization.

"We've had some preliminary conversations in which [the Governor's] staff wanted to know what we were doing in New York City and whether we thought that could be translated statewide," she said.

Ms. Dulany said her organization plans next year to set up a model program in a city school to provide jobs for students who are at risk of dropping out but remain in school through graduation.

"It's very hard to get the private sector to guarantee a job," she said. "But with the change in demographic trends, there will eventually be a shortage of workers. It is to the bene-fit of private industry to have trained workers."

Ms. Dulany pointed out that although it is helpful to have large corporations involved in school/business partnerships, the vast majority of available jobs are created by small local businesses. Consequently, she said, the state would need to concentrate on job-development programs that emphasize localized neighborhood campaigns.

Feasibility Questioned

Ultimately, Ms. Dulany said, a program like the one envisioned by Governor Cuomo might involve an additional staff person at each high school who would help coordinate a job-development program to reach out to local businesses. She declined to estimate the cost of such a program.

Although most of those familiar with Governor Cuomo's initiative thought it commendable, some questioned whether guaranteeing a job for every high-school graduate is a feasible goal.

"There's no way you can guarantee a job," said Richard Arnold, who has been involved in building linkages between education and the business community as senior vice president of the a.t.&t. Foundation in New York. "You can't force the private sector to do something."

Mr. Arnold noted that corporations often put their energies into helping colleges and universities, rather than precollegiate institutions, and said he did not expect that to change in the near future.

'Noble Goal'

Mr. Arnold called Mr. Cuomo's plan a "noble goal," but added, "How to do it is the difficult part."

While small businesses will need the vast majority of trained workers in the future, "they aren't big enough or global enough to make the effort with the schools," Mr. Arnold said. "That's the paradox."

Mr. Arnold said he believed schools must "get out there with 75 percent of the leadership" in reaching out to the business community.

"Too many ventures like this have foundered because no one takes theership role," he added.

One successful program is Jobs for America's Graduates Inc., a national nonprofit organization that is an outgrowth of Jobs for Delaware Graduates, begun in 1979 by former Gov. Pierre du Pont 4th. Mr. du Pont now chairs the national organization, and a number of governors, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Charles S. Robb of Virginia, are on the board of directors.

In the national program, which began in 1980, counselors at the local level first help identify at-risk students, then provide nine-month in-school classes on job-research and job-interviewing techniques, career planning and decisionmaking, the nature of work, and basic academic skills.

The counselors then help place the students in private-sector jobs and continue to monitor them for nine months after graduation.

Low-Cost Placement

Kenneth Smith, president of Jobs for America's Graduates, said the program costs about $1,300 per placement, less than half of the estimated per-placement cost of the federal Job Training Partnership Act. He said his program has found jobs for 32,000 students from 180 high schools in 8 states. Some 70 percent of those students are members of minority groups, he said.

The program has shown that a good "school to work" plan can reduce youth unemployment by 50 percent and can double the chances of minorities to get jobs, he said.

Although no statistical information is available yet on the program's impact on school dropout rates, "anecdotal evidence shows that the dropout rate has gone down," according to Carol Hartmann, director of the organization's program development."If students see seniors that are in the program go out and get jobs, it's bound to have some effect."

She said the organization is currently gathering hard data on the program's effect on dropout rates.

Mr. Smith said that although the details of Governor Cuomo's plan remain unknown, "there's evidence that the Governor is on the right track."

"Prevention is better than remediation," said Mr. Smith. "While our program does not guarantee a job, it does guarantee everyone's best efforts."

In Delaware, 23 of the state's 25 high schools participate in "Jobs for Delaware Graduates," the forerunner of the national program. The state effort has placed 5,800 high-school seniors in jobs in the past five years and has a placement rate of 90 percent, according to Gerald Allen, director of administration and operations for the organization.

A Role for States

"There is clearly a state role in smoothing the way from school to work," said Kent McGuire, senior policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States and one of the coordinators of its recently released report, "Reconnecting Youth: The Next Stage of Reform." That re-port called on business leaders, educators, and government officials to work together to help "at-risk" youths.

"A state's economy hinges on a steady flow of youths graduating from schools," Mr. McGuire said. "However, with a 25-to-30 percent dropout rate, a state has to find a multi-prong strategy to ensure that steady flow."

"Whether you can really guarantee a job to everyone who graduates is kind of tough," he said, "but this statement is important, because it visibly makes the connection between schools and private industry--it gives some focus to the problem."

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