South Carolina is full of great success stories, but one most people haven’t heard of is Jobs for America’s Graduates-South Carolina, a high school dropout prevention program.
The program provides coaching and counseling during the school day to help young people in need finish high school, secure and keep a job or enroll in post-secondary education. Since 2009, South Carolina JAG students have graduated at a 97% rate — well above the state average of 85%.
Participants secure full- and part-time jobs at twice the rate of their peers. Female and minority participants secure full-time jobs at three times the rate of their peers. As a result, South Carolina’s Jobs for America’s Graduates program has been recognized as one of the highest-achieving in the country for the past 12 years.
This program works. It changes lives, and it sharpens our competitive edge.
Like the life of a McCormick High School student who entered the program while facing serious and repeated health problems, including an extended hospital stay. A Jobs for America’s Graduates specialist regularly visited him, provided encouragement, took him school assignments and eventually scholarship applications. With the help of this program, he was able to participate in a dual enrollment program, ultimately earning his diploma from McCormick High School as well as an associate degree from Piedmont Technical College. He is now enrolled at the University of South Carolina and plans to become a doctor.
Or the life of a Swansea student who lost her siblings in a car accident. During this time, she found support from a JAG specialist who helped her navigate the trauma and graduate. She went on to become a registered nurse and work at Prisma Health.
Stories like these demonstrate the value of the program. Our young people have ability; all some need is a little help. It’s time to expand.
In July 2021, I invested $4 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds into the program. I asked our state’s technical colleges to help expand the program, then in 15 schools, to 33. They did, and the results were remarkable.
This year, I have called upon the General Assembly to provide $3 million to increase the number of schools in the program to 100. The impact of the pandemic on student achievement makes this expansion even more timely.
Our S.C. Technical College System is now laying the groundwork for this new expansion by contacting school district superintendents across the state. Notably, Richland School District One recently committed to match my 2021 funding to implement the program in all seven high schools in the district during the next school year. This is exciting news for Midlands families and employees, including Scout Motors, which recently announced its investment of $2 billion for 4,000 of our people to build electric vehicles in Blythewood.
The Jobs for America’s Graduates program will be particularly important in the manufacturing industries through its collaboration with our technical colleges for dual enrollments, associate degrees and industry credentials. Jobs lead to careers.
For all these reasons, companies across the state are supporting the program. Boeing is funding an additional program in the Charleston area. McDonald’s, Honeywell and dozens of other S.C. employers are supporting it, too. Why? Because they have seen firsthand that the youth of JAG show up for work on time, are customer-service-focused, ready to work and learn and have a positive attitude.
South Carolina is booming. Companies around the world want to put South Carolinians to work. That means our education and workforce systems must be operating at maximum capacity, innovation and speed to continue beating the competition from other states.
I ask my friends in the General Assembly, our superintendents and business leaders to support this program as a part of our South Carolina advantage. The best is yet to come.
Henry McMaster is governor of South Carolina.