- Mike Rutledge Staff Writer
Hamilton has been improving in such areas as its downtown rebirth and its parks, and has boosted the number of companies that employ local people. But city residents with low levels of education are being left behind by the globalized economy, Glenn Holmes, a recent employee with the city’s fellows program recently told elected leaders.
“Around the corner from our recent success lies a fresh set of challenges,” Holmes said.
Those include, he said, “finding a way to raise wages for the working class; boosting our median housing value; and reducing the poverty rate currently two times the national average.”
Residents of the city who have only high-school educations are struggling to compete in a globalized economy, where jobs are being created in the service- and high-tech sectors, Holmes said.
He is suggesting the city and its public schools work with a nationwide non-profit program called Say Yes to Education, which he said helps students gain access to two-year and four-year college educations, bolstering their skills and helping them win higher-paying jobs.
That in turn, he said, will lift the entire city.
“Less than two decades ago, at the turn of the century, our poverty rate was only 13 percent,” Holmes said. “Today more than one in five Hamiltonians live in poverty.”
Tony Orr, superintendent of the Hamilton City School District, said school district officials are still collecting information about the Say Yes to Education program. He and Assistant Superintendent Michael Holbrook attended a meeting to learn about the program, and have shared the information with the Hamilton Board of Education.
“But right now, we’re just in the exploratory stage,” Orr said, noting the Hamilton Community Foundation was also collecting more information.
“We were going to reconvene and see if this is viable for Hamilton City Schools and the city of Hamilton,” he said.
The Ohio Poverty Report, issued in February by Ohio’s Development Services Agency, which used Census Bureau data, supports Holmes’ argument.
The 2000 U.S. Census found Hamilton’s poverty rate was 13.4 percent. The poverty rate rose to an average of 22.1 percent from 2011-2015, according to The Ohio Poverty Report.
Using statewide poverty figures:
- In 2000, 7.8 percent of Ohioans who were 25 or older and had high school degrees were living in poverty
- In the 2011-15 period, that rose to 13.3 percent statewide
- For those with some college or an associate’s degree, those in poverty rose from 5.5 percent in 2000 to 10.9 percent this decade
- For those with bachelor’s degrees or more, the poverty rate rose from 2.7 percent to 3.9 percent, the study found
“Our greatest barrier to achieving our vision is, by far, the low education level of our population,” Holmes said. “Only 15 percent of Hamilton residents have a bachelor’s degree, well behind Butler County and Ohio, and half the national average. Among those with a bachelor’s degree in Hamilton, the poverty rate is only 6 percent. But for those without a high-school degree, the poverty rate is over 30 percent.”
“Beyond post-secondary education, our schools struggle to educate and graduate children in a school district where seven out of every 10 kids who walks into the classroom lives in poverty, and where one out of every 20 kids is homeless,” he said.
Even though Hamilton’s schools go to “extraordinary lengths” to attack learning challenges of children who are in poverty with programs like a student health clinic, after-school English-as-a-second-language classes and universal preschool, efforts continue to fall short, he said.
“However, our low education level can also be seen as an opportunity for economic growth,” Holmes said. He cited a recent study that found for each percentage-point of improvement in four-year college attainment, communities reaped an $856 increase in per-capita income.
Whereas in 1964, only one out of 10 young people needed a bachelor’s degree to get a job, today, one-third of jobs require a bachelor’s degree, and another third require some college or an associate’s degree. That means two-thirds of jobs today require education past high school. Plus, “Young people today with a bachelor’s degree make $27,000 more than their peers with a high-school degree, and those who graduate from a community college make an average of $10,000 more,” Holmes said.
For every dollar communities invest in such programs, they reap $25 for their economies, he said. Holmes noted there remain plenty of good jobs that can be worked with only a high-school diploma: “But the economic reality we find ourselves in demands that we give students the opportunity to pursue the outer limits of their God-given abilities, and to pursue an education that will ultimately benefit this community in the long run,” Holmes said.
Holmes earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public administration from American University before becoming a post-graduate fellow in Hamilton city government. He will attend law school at the University of Connecticut this fall.
The Say Yes to Education program lets communities develop their own programs to help students gain access — financially and academically — to education beyond high school, including technical programs, two-year community colleges and four-year bachelor’s programs.
Beginning in preschool or kindergarten through 12th grade, Say Yes programs provide such programs as tutoring, after-school programs, summer camp, help with college admissions and financial aid, and free legal assistance. Public high-school students in Say Yes communities can receive scholarships that cover the total cost of tuition to any in-state public college or university, no matter the level of their family income. Those with annual family income below $75,000 who earn admission to almost 100 private colleges also can receive scholarships covering full tuition.
There are barriers to joining the Say Yes to Education program, including the costs of raising money for programs and scholarships. And after six years under the wings of Say Yes to Education, local schools and cities are on their own to keep the programs operating.
The impact has been good in Buffalo, N.Y., where the graduation rate has jumped from 49 percent in 2012 to 67 percent in 2016. Also, the number of students of color graduating high school in Buffalo has increased 17 percentage points, according to Say Yes to Education. Holmes said Kalamazoo, Mich., has sent 6,800 students to education beyond high school.
In Pittsburgh, the high-school graduation rate rose from 63 percent in 2007 to 74 percent in 2014, while the number of students enrolled in post-high-school education during the two years after high school rose from 58 percent in 2005 to 68 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, after 50 straight years of decreases, Pittsburgh’s population has begun to grow, according to that city’s program.
Meanwhile, Tennessee, which provides two years of tuition-free attendance at community and technical colleges, has led the nation in federal applications for college financial aid since its program began, Holmes said.
Council member Kathleen Klink, a former Lakota Local Schools superintendent, said involvement of the city’s school system would be critical: “If this were to go forward, they’d have to be a partner and a collaborator in this.”
Noting there was consideration of visiting Buffalo, to see the program there, Klink added: “The conversation can only grow when we know that the partnership includes the Hamilton City School District.”
Vice Mayor Carla Fiehrer said such a program “would really take a lot of the load off of a lot of the teachers there, and be able to identify students who would fit into this, and help them. So I think it’s great.”
Orr said Say Yes to Education “is philanthropic in the fact that they give you start-up money for the infrastructure, as far as the personnel it’s going to take to run the program. However, you also have to generate the last scholarship dollars for your students, and we would have to discuss where those donations would come from to ensure sustainability.”
“So, right now, that’s all I know,” Orr said. “So it’s really early for me to make comments, because I just don’t have enough information.”
“We appreciated Glenn’s enthusiasm,” Orr added. “I appreciate what the program may be, but we just have have to determine as a city and school district what the viability is, given the amount of dollars that would have to be generated from donations or other sources to bring about sustainability.”
“Any time that we can help students and families succeed, I’m always going to be supportive, because I consider myself the biggest champion that there is for the Hamilton kids,” Orr said. “So if it was viable, I think it’s a great opportunity for our students, families, community. But I think there’s some challenges we would have to consider.”
Here’s how Hamilton demographics compare with other area communities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s use of an average of information from 2011 through 2015, the most recent data available:
Education attainment Bachelor’s degree or higher among those 25 or older:
- Hamilton: 14.9 percent
- Fairfield: 27.2 percent
- Middletown: 15.7 percent
- Oxford: 61.9 percent
- West Chester Twp.: 46.6 percent
- Butler County total: 28.4 percent
- Warren County total: 39.6 percent
- Cincinnati: 33.1 percent
- Dayton: 17.3 percent
- Ohio total: 26.1 percent
- National total: 29.8 percent
Hamilton’s poverty rates for people 25 and older with various education levels:
- Less than high-school graduate: 32.8 percent in poverty
- High-school graduate, including equivalency: 16.7 percent in poverty
- Some college or associate’s degree: 13.5 percent in poverty
- Bachelor’s degree or higher: 5.6 percent in poverty