The diplomas that high school graduates will proudly receive this month mark a major achievement.
But many of them plan to go on to earn college degrees or complete other training programs.
They’ll have to if they want steady, well-paying jobs, say Spokane Valley school counselors and business leaders.
“Most students realize they need to get some training beyond high school,” said Helen Liberg, a counselor at West Valley High School.
“If you choose to not pursue further education, your employment opportunities are minimum wage, working at McDonald’s, end of story,” said Ray Murphy, executive director of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce.
But a four-year degree from a state or private college isn’t the only option.
In fact, one counselor at University High School makes a point of not pushing college for some students.
Only 20 percent of those who enter four-year colleges end up graduating, U-Hi counselor Darrell Driggs said. And even among those who do, some have trouble finding gainful employment. “Kids are coming back home to live with their parents,” he said.
“What we try to do is make it a little more realistic,” Driggs said.
In addition to showing students statistics that prove those with college degrees earn more than those who stopped after high school, he points out that those with one- or two-year degrees or training programs fall somewhere in between.
Many graduates plan to attend Spokane’s community colleges and transfer after two years.
“We have such an excellent community college system,” Liberg said.
Tom Lunneborg, an East Valley senior, plans to get a four-year degree in physical therapy, but not all at once.
He wants to earn an associate degree at Spokane Falls Community College in two years.
“Then I can work in the clinic and get hands-on training,” he said.
That way, he can also begin earning money sooner, “Instead of going four years and never seeing anything until the end. I’ve been in school 12 years already.”
After two years at the clinic, Lunneborg plans to finish his training at Eastern Washington University in two more years.
Eventually, he hopes to work as a therapist with college sports teams.
Scott Wilson, another senior at East Valley, plans to get training in the field of fluid power at Spokane Community College.
“I thought it’d be a good place to go, a good trade to learn,” said Wilson, who has worked at Big R Supply in the Valley for the past three years.
Wilson hopes to someday run his own business, traveling and working on farm equipment.
“I’ve always planned on going two years,” he said, admitting that he’s not crazy about the idea of going to school for four more years.
Grads can also gain job training through specialized schools.
Eric MacKay, a West Valley senior, said, “I’ve always wanted to be a hunting and fishing guide.”
For the past two years, he has worked at the Safeway at Argonne and Mission, part-time during the school year and full-time during summer.
After working there for another year, he’ll attend a guide school in central Idaho.
There, he’ll learn how to hunt, fish, take care of horses and run jet boats on rivers through the six-month program.
He hopes to land a job as a guide in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming.
Driggs said that Valley high school grads who don’t plan to head off to four-year colleges will be entering construction, culinary arts, nursing, dental hygiene, and such trades as electrician and plumber.
They and others will need a strong academic background plus the ability to keep up with rapidly advancing technology.
“We’re in the middle of a revolution that, when historians look back, will dwarf the Industrial Revolution,” said the Valley Chamber’s Murphy.
“If you don’t have good aptitude in computers and technology,” he said, “you’re not employable.”
Still others plan to go into the military, either to take advantage of the money the armed forces offer for college, or the skills and training offered there.
“If they’re more interested in the training,” said Sgt. Michael Schwilke, of the Army’s Valley recruiting station, “we have over 250 entry level jobs. They choose a job before they join.”
Those who leap right into the job market don’t usually stick with food services, Driggs said. “Kids … are usually fed up with the fast food industry.”
West Valley senior Angie Balch has worked her way into a steady job already.
After starting out part time at Spokane’s Aztech Electric two years ago, she was recently promoted to the billing department.
“I don’t want to go to college,” she said. “I like hands-on learning. I think that I perform tasks better when I do it.”
Although she said she had felt a lot of pressure to go to college, “I was the only one creating the pressure,” she realized this year.
“I want to work, taking classes here and there,” she said.
As the so-called real world looms larger for these high school graduates, counselor Shirley Olson inspires them with hope.
“It’s probably one of the best years to graduate,” she said. “I do feel that there are jobs out there.”
, DataTimes MEMO: (Story from Graduation special section in Valley Voice)