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Maine High School Graduates Face Uncertain, Indebted Future
04/26/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

So, what do you want to be when you grow up? It's a question schoolkids have been asked for decades, sometimes on their very first day of kindergarten - and at that time, they have years to think about it. But for some, the wait is over. In just a few short weeks, Maine's soon-to-be high school graduates will leave the nest. Today several hundred seniors converged on the Augusta Civic Center as part of the Jobs for Maine's Graduates program, or JMG, a nonprofit organization that exists to improve the prospects of Maine's future leaders and workforce. Some kids say they have it figured out. Some haven't. But as Jennifer Mitchell reports most say they understand what they're getting into.

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 Duration:
3:36

There's one thing you notice right away when talking to today's graduates: There's a lot of contingency planning. Today's high school graduates say they know they're entering a potentially difficult career environment. College tuition fees will likely leave them with tens of thousands of dollars of debt in just four years' time. Financial aid is scarce, and not every career they might want to pursue exists in Maine.

Bianca Abdallah: "A lot of it is settling, which is really sad, but when you think about the economy and how everything is, it's really hard to just pursue what you want. You have to find something that's marketable so that you can get a job."

Jennifer Mitchell: "So if I handed you a magic wand right now and said, 'You can have any job you want - KAZAM - what would it be?"

Bianca Abdallah: "An artist."

That's Bianca Abdallah, a senior at Portland High School, and she's trading in her potential art career for one that is perhaps a bit more stable: behavioral health, something she believes will not only be be useful, but something for which there will actually be a need.

Abdallah seems to have her life pretty much figured out - except how to pay for it. Despite a long list of acceptance letters from both in- and out-of-state universities, she doesn't know if she'll be able to afford any of them.

"My teacher always says, you know, don't worry about it, don't think about it, but it's going to be on your mind," she says. "You know, you can enjoy your time in school, which is a great thing, but when you're done, whether or not you find a job, paying all those loans back takes a lot of your finances away from you, and you can't really enjoy the money that you make with your career because you already know where a lot of it is going."

So she's taking a summer to consider her options. Of the 58,000 kids in high school right now, about 85 percent are likely to graduate on time. For some, it will take an extra year. Eighteen-year-old Philip Dumont of Gardiner is one of them. He's in his fifth year of high school, but he says running into trouble that caused him to repeat his junior year was not an academic death sentence, but a life lesson.

"No matter how many quote-unquote 'failures' you get, you will always be able to succeed if you just do not give up. The only failure is not trying," Dumont says.

Dumont hopes to study business and eventually earn an MBA from a good business school. However, like Abdallah, he doesn't have the money. But there's one avenue he's hoping will help: The military, with its GI Bill, provides education funding for veterans.

All of these students are part of a program called Jobs for Maine's Graduates, which attempts to train students in everything from manners to how to make sound financial decisions when trying to pay for school.

Graduation rates for JMG students are higher than the state average, and while the state has limited data on exactly where students go after receiving their diplomas, JMG does track its program participants, 85 percent of whom go on to a career, the military, or a post-secondary school. Right now, they're trying to figure out which.



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