Graduation Matters

United Way of Yellowstone County is working to alleviate poverty in our community. The most promising solution to do so is to ensure children graduate from high school prepared to succeed. However, many students hit barriers to school success that start at birth and are complex.  United, our community can change the trajectory for at risk youth. With sights set on the big issues facing our community, United Way is mobilizing the community around a goal of a 95% graduation rate in Yellowstone County by 2025.
 
 
What is the Graduation Rate Currently? 
 
The 2015-2016 graduation rate in Billings was 83.6%.This is an increase of 7.7% since 2011, but still puts us behind the state average.
 
A large achievement gap still exists in our community for certain populations.
  • 71.8%  of economically disadvantaged students graduated
  • 57.7%  of American Indian students graduated
 
This is unacceptable. Currently, we lose over 200 students between ninth and twelfth grade. 
 
 
Why 95% by 2025?  
 
 We CAN and MUST graduate more students.
 
  • Yellowstone County faces a severe labor shortage in the next ten years as a large population of the workforce begins to retire.
  • A graduate earns $700,000 more than a drop out in his lifetime.  
  • A drop out costs the public more over time, due to such things as the need for public assistance and the increased likelihood of jail.
  • Each 50 additional students that graduate increases lifetime earnings in Yellowstone County by $35 million.
 
 
How Does United Way Help More Kids Graduate?
 
We do our research. We use local and national data and research to identify solutions.  Our strategies rely on a foundation of trauma informed culture and the key tenet of family engagement.  
 
Key focus areas are:
 
  • School Readiness- School success starts at birth and many low income students start kindergarten significantly behind. We must equip parents to be their child’s first and best teacher.
  • School Success-  If a student is not reading on grade level by third grade, the odds for dropping out are much higher.  We must decrease chronic absenteeism in order for kids to stay on track academically, prevent summer learning loss and increase access to mentors and positive youth development in the non-school hours.
  • Crisis Stabilization- When a child is homeless, hungry, living with an addict, or faces a myriad of crises, they also face barriers to learning.  We must protect the basic rights and needs of our children.
 
We work on a United front. We listen to national and local experts, and partner with nonprofits, schools, health care, businesses, and government to achieve results.  Formal collaboratives such as Best Beginnings, Reader Tutor Mentor Billings Out of School Time and Healthy By Design inform our work.  Volunteers serve as mentors, raise awareness, deliver books, read to children, collect food and more.  Donors give of their time, talent and resources.
 
We leverage our combined resources. United Way puts its money where its mouth is.  We work with businesses to raise funds.  We invest in nonprofits who are moving the needle on school readiness, school success and crisis stabilization.  We secure grants and contracts. We work with donors to fund innovative pilot projects and to build system infrastructure like www.montana211.org, a comprehensive online resource guide.