High School Inc. - A Catalyst for Social and Economic Change

Orange County, California - one of the most affluent regions in the US - interestingly has a central area that is one of the poorest in the US.  Santa Ana is that workforce community, yet two-thirds of its eligible workers struggle to qualify for entry level positions in sustainable growth industries, because they lack skills, knowledge and abilities, and the language of the 21st century workplace.  This is the primary reason High School Inc. was formed.

The Crisis

In a 1997 La Jolla Institute Report, Orange County: The Fate of a Post Suburban Paradise, Joel Kotkin wrote: "With labor demands rising, companies increasingly find themselves bedeviled with a shortage of both skilled and semiskilled workers." Over a decade ago Kotkin forecasted a twenty-year window in which to bring the poorer, heavily immigrant "core" region (centered on Santa Ana, CA), to a level of economic strength and become contributing player in creating wealth. 

Over the past decade the high unemployment rate in the region, has left many available jobs unfilled or filled by under skilled workers. Wages have been suppressed and income has been pushed to the lowest per capita average in the nation. And in the next few years, as the economic recovery regains momentum and hiring increases, companies may still be forced to compete for a declining number of "fit-for-hire" workers. This cancer-like force has been gaining impetus for decades.

The Consequence

Kotkin warned over a decade ago, if left unaddressed, the poorer economic core areas of Orange County, would negatively impact the economy of the entire county. His seemingly prophetic warning looms even more heavily today.

Without fresh investment, in what's now a game of "catch-up" in the workplace, a continuation productivity and profitability undermining will be at risk. Unless significant public and private training resources are brought to bear on issues of equity and economics in the county's core areas, a nearly unstoppable shortage of qualified workers will continue.  

The Solution

High School Inc. is helping bridge the skills gap and language barrier and bring balance to social equity and economic values. At a time when inequity is overburdening the classroom and depriving the workplace, High School Inc. positively links social equity and economic values in school and at work.  Teachers and active successful business professionals work side-by-side in the classroom to prepare students for jobs, entrepreneurial start-ups, colleges and universities, and life-long learning, which leads to sustainable employment in growth industries.

The overwhelming popularity of the High School Inc.'s model has created a positive push for change that is greater than the pull for change of prior decades. Capitalizing on this emerging win-win-win scenario for education, business and community will create community wealth, business profitability and minimize poverty and inequity.

Governance and Organizational Structure

In 2007 an original Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) created a partnership between Santa Ana Unified School District and the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce to form High School Inc.  In June 2011 it became necessary to establish the High School Inc. Foundation, a California 501(c) (3), which is primarily a fundraising entity that supports the programs of High School Inc.  Subsequently in 2012, the MOU was redrafted to include all three parties to a reorganized High School Inc - SAUSD, the Chamber, and the Foundation.  

This restructuring formed the creation of the High School Inc. Advisory Committee, a task force that plans and implements the work of High School Inc.  This Committee is comprised of representatives from SAUSD, the Chamber, the Foundation, and other members of the business community (Academy Champions), who work side-by-side with students and faculty in the High School Inc. Academies.