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Focus Must Turn to 'Forgotten Half,' Study Says

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Washington--America must invest money and human resources in improving the prospects for the 50 percent of all young people who do not attend college, if it is to avoid creating a society rent by economic and social inequality, a new report argues.

"Although rich in material resources, our society seems unable to ensure that all our youth will mature into young men and women able to face their futures with a sense of confidence and security," according to the report, entitled "The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America's Youth and Young Families."

A principal problem, the report contends, is the common view that the 20 million young people who constitute "the forgotten half" are "failures."

That attitude must change, according to the two-year study of 16- to 24-year-olds conducted by the William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship, if such young people are to gain a purchase on well-being.

"They must be viewed as our hope for the future rather than as a generation of misfits," said Harold Howe 2nd, chairman of the Grant Foundation Commission and a former U.S. commissioner of education.

The document, released at a press conference here last week, expands upon themes first sounded in an interim report on the plight of non-college-bound youth issued last January by the Grant Foundation. (See Education Week, Jan. 27, 1988.)

That report concluded that those who do not attend college face an increasingly bleak economic future in which their chances of finding jobs and amassing the resources to start families are far slimmer than for previous generations.

'Troubled Times Ahead'

Unless that trend is reversed, "the 1990's will see an enormous amount of social unrest that will result in scapegoating" of the members of the underclass, said Daniel Yankelovich, chairman of the polling firm of that name and one of 19 prominent educators, business leaders, and sociologists who drafted the report.

"I see troubled times ahead if this problem is not addressed," he added.

The interim report recommended increasing federal expenditures by $5 billion a year for the next 10 years to bolster such progams as Chapter 1 and Head Start, which have demonstrated their effectiveness in helping young people achieve academically.

But the final document calls for a major federal policy initiative to encourage local government entities to provide new job-training and educational opportunities for non-college-bound youths.

It also calls for initiatives at the community level to improve links between young people and the adult world, including a suggestion that students should be required to offer volunteer service to the community.

Reform movement faulted

The school-reform movement must accept some of the blame for the plight of "the forgotten half," according to Mr. Howe.

The renewed emphasis on "excellence" in schools, which has been directed largely toward college-bound students, "needs considerable rethinking if it is to adequately serve the needs of all8students," he said.

Schools must be given more "flexibility" in the way they teach, he argued, if they are to reverse a trend in which, as the report states, "more and more of the non-college-bound now fall between the cracks when they are in school, drop out, or graduate inadequately prepared for the requirements of the society and the workplace."

But the report cautions that "efforts to produce success in school--without complementary efforts in families and communities--are unlikely to make a substantial difference for young people."

'A Sharp Disparity'

The report also asserts that more public funds must be expended on programs for students who do plan to attend college.

It notes that while federal student-aid programs provide college students with subsidies averaging $5,000 a year for four years, "only about five percent of those eligible for federally supported job training receive it."

"There is a sharp disparity between what Americans do for college-bound youth and what they do for the forgotten half," the report states.

Four Major Strategies

The commission suggests the following four "major strategies" to improve the lot of the non-college-bound:

Creating more equitable job-training policies.

The commission proposes new federal legislation--"Fair Chance: Youth Opportunities Demonstration Act"--that would, at a cost of $250 million a year for five years, support demonstration grants to consortia in every state of educational institutions, local governments, and other agencies to provide postsecondary and higher-education programs specifically for youths considered non-college-bound.

Enhancing the quality of relationships between youths and adults.

Among the suggestions to improve youth-adult relationships" are a "broad-based reconsideration of various tax policies to support families," including increased personal-income-tax exemptions and the expansion of earned-income tax credits and child-care tax credits.

Expanding community support and opportunities for young people.

The report recommends that schools and communities "establish attractive service opportunities" for young people and either include service projects as part of the curriculum or require a specified amount of community service as a requirement toward graduation.

Encouraging partnerships between business and state and local governments that provide opportunities for job training.

"The challenge before us all is seeing the members of the 'forgotten half' in a new light, one that recognizes their strengths, respects their diversity, and challenges their talents," the report concludes.

Single copies of the report may be obtained free from the William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship, 1001 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Suite 301, Washington, D.C. 20036-5541.

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