Kentucky high school graduates who do not attend college face limited employment opportunities and low wages


A report by Charles McGrew, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics in Frankfort, reaffirms the bleak economic outlook for high school graduates who don't pursue postsecondary studies. According to the report:

“More than two-thirds of Kentucky’s recent public high school graduates attended a college or university in some capacity within three years. Approximately 60 percent of those who didn’t pursue postsecondary education entered Kentucky’s workforce. The remainder most likely moved out of state, joined the military, worked in agriculture or some other capacity which isn’t reported to the state.

The outlook for people who did not attend college is not promising. On average, Kentucky’s public high school graduates from 2011-12 earned $7,567 during fiscal year 2012-13. The 2009-10 graduates’ wages three years later in 2012-13 were higher, but only $11,511. The idea of leaving high school for a high-paying job in the factory or in Eastern Kentucky in a mine is the exception and not the rule. Even after three years, only a little more than one out of three who were employed were earning as much as a person who works full-time at a minimum-wage job.”

Highlights of report:

“On average, Kentucky’s public high school graduates from 2011-12 earned $7,567 the year following graduation. After three years the 2009-10 graduates’ wages rose to $11,511.

Three years after high school two out of three graduates from 2009-10 were earning less than full-time minimum wage.

Female graduates are only earning about 70 percent as much as males three years after high school.

African American graduates earn more than 30 percent less than Caucasian graduates three years after high school.

Graduates with 20 or more unexcused absences in their senior year earned up to 55 percent less than those with five or fewer.

About 60 percent of the graduates work in the four lowest paying industries."


“In general, students who do not go to college earn considerably less than those who complete a college degree or credential. The majority are not employed full-time even three years after high school. Wages have increased over time as shown in figure 6.0 but at the current rate they will continue to significantly trail entry level average earnings for Associate and Bachelor degree recipients.

While it seems like common sense that people who go to college will earn more than people who don’t, the difference in wages may not be as apparent. The employment outcomes for recent high school graduates who did not continue their education have, on average, been considerably less than what it would take for the average person to be self-sufficient or support a family.

Wage disparities for females, African Americans, and young people who came from lower income families were significant. For that majority who do not attend or complete a college credential, this suggests that the cycle of poverty for many of Kentucky’s neediest will not end any time soon.

The preliminary data suggests that students who do not wish to go to college would be well served to gain work and technical skills in high school so they are better prepared to enter a career. The data are not yet available to see how they perform over time in terms of wages compared to those who do go to college, but the initial findings show that they earn considerably more than their high school graduate counterparts who do not take or pass these assessments.”

A pdf of the report may be viewed here.

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