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Opinion: The Class of 2023 is Graduating with Strong Plans for the Future

It’s graduation time–and this year is especially exciting because more high school students from our region are crossing the stage to get their diplomas with strong plans in place for their futures.

Some are headed to a two-or four-year college, some to career training, some to the military. And many arrived at these decisions with the help of a dedicated college and career advisor through a program called rootEd Missouri.

rootEd Missouri, a partnership among national organization rootEd Alliance, Ozarks Technical Community College and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, aims to remove barriers to postsecondary achievement often faced by students in rural communities by placing dedicated advisors, called rootEd Advisors, in high schools to help students map and carry out plans for their post-high school futures. This support includes helping students identify postsecondary opportunities, earn workforce credentials, submit college applications, and even secure financial aid. The program is now serving 135 rural high schools across the state.

In the 33rd Senatorial District, which I represent and which includes Douglas, Howell, Ozark, Shannon, Stone, Taney and Texas counties, 11 rural high schools participated in rootEd Missouri in the 2022-2023 school year. Across these schools, 719 seniors received individualized college and career advising. As a result, to date, nearly 98 percent of students are graduating with a postsecondary plan. Of those students, nearly 66 percent are enrolling in a two-year or four-year college, and nearly 33 percent are entering the workforce or seeking career and technical education and training.

In addition, nearly 60 percent of students have completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA is the first step to qualifying for most forms of financial aid, which many students rely on to realize their plans for postsecondary education and training. As of April 18, the statewide FAFSA completion rate was about 45 percent.

The success of rootEd Missouri is encouraging for me, personally and professionally. Before serving in the Missouri Senate, I spent nearly 30 years in public education, rising from a classroom teacher to a leader in our state education department, working to ensure students were prepared for life after graduation. My family continues this service; in fact, my daughter and son-in-law both work at a school participating in rootEd Missouri.

I now advocate for our students, our families, and our schools in my role in the Missouri Senate. Just this spring, I sponsored a bill to have students begin to fill out an individual career and academic plan prior to their ninth grade school year, opening doors students might not have thought were available to them.

But more than encouraging, the success of rootEd Missouri has real impact—on the individual graduates, on their families, and on all Missourians. When students graduate with a clear path to a strong career, they unlock opportunities for lifelong prosperity. And when our workforce is highly skilled, our economy thrives, our communities prosper, and our entire state is better positioned for the future.