By Vandana Sinha
WASHINGTON – More Marylanders are earning their high school diplomas than ever before, reflecting the document’s increasing value in the business world, officials say.
A 1996 U.S. Census Bureau survey of about 1,500 state residents 25 and over found that 84.6 percent had high school diplomas, a 7.3 percent rise from 1990. The national average rose 5 percent.
Maryland’s 1996 rate surpassed the national rate by about 3.4 percent, ranking the state 23rd in the country, the Census Bureau reported. Virginia’s rate was 82 percent, 32nd in the nation.
Reformed standards and quality improvements in the state educational system in the past decade helped keep teen-agers in school, leading to a near 10 percent dip in dropout rates between the 1993 and 1996 school years, said Ronald Peiffer, assistant state Education Department superintendent.
He also said more adults return to high school equivalency procedures now to earn the diploma they had bypassed when they were young.
“In the 1950s, you could come back from Korea or World War II, and if you had a strong back and a will to work, you could make a decent living,” he said. “You can’t do that now.”
In fact, young adults are getting a “wake-up call” that without a diploma, their talent is sometimes ignored in today’s “technologically sophisticated” work force, unlike in the 1940s and 1950s, said Susan Buswell, executive director of Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
“Education has grown from being unnecessary to key to changing people’s lives,” she said.
Although split in half as to whether high school graduates are prepared for the work force, about 85 percent of 250 firms surveyed by the Maryland Business Research Partnership said they will hire applicants with only a high school education.
A diploma tells employers that high school graduates can stick to a 12-year program and have grasped basic reading, writing and computing skills, said June Streckfus, executive director of Maryland Business Roundtable of Education.
She said her organization submitted to the state Education Department what employers think are necessary technical and business-related skills, which may become graduation standards for all state high schools by the year 2004.
“Our feeling is that we’re making slow and steady progress,” Peiffer said. “The state schools are working at a significant momentum in Maryland to help carry us into the next century.”