Talent Dividend Work

Preventing drop-outs during an oil boom

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It can be hard to convince students of the benefit of a college education when an oil boom is pushing wages for low-skill jobs into the six figures. That's the situation in North Dakota, so the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation, the point group for the Talent Dividend in the Fargo area, has banded together with local higher education institutions and other community groups to target students who are pursuing a degree but at risk of dropping out.

While the oil-boom jobs are lucrative, they are often very physical jobs that most people won't be able to perform their entire working life, as Tim Beaton, executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation, points out.

"You don't want to be a 45, 50 or 60-year-old guy trying to drive a truck – you're going to be beat up, and the job may not be there," he says.
They did focus groups with students to identify reasons why they might be at risk of dropping out, which helped target their message. They did a PR campaign called "Use Your Brain – Stay in School" that reaches students on campuses, as well as a Facebook campaign which rewarded students for sharing the "stay in school" message. Several local colleges and universities have programs in place to retain students, Beaton says. Minnesota State's Moorhead campus identified students within the first few weeks of the start of school who might be struggling and set them up with a counselor. Another local two-year business college matches students with mentors and helps connect them with student organizations and social groups so they feel connected to the campus. 
While the retention efforts have been helpful in and of themselves, Beaton says he sees more long-term benefits arising from their work, such as finding ways to lure back college dropouts or help get more students into two- and four-year schools. "A side benefit of this whole process – notwithstanding the fact we're fully intent on winning a million dollars – is that institutions are talking with each other, which they haven't done before," he says.

Source: Tim Beaton, Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation
Writer: Amy Kuras

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