One School’s Journey – Economics

By Dick Thomas


Our One School’s Journey blog series covers our work with two parochial Cincinnati high schools merging in 2018-19 to create a brand-new institution, Mercy McAuley High School. During a two-day futurecasting session, the Mercy McAuley transition team heard presentations from different stakeholders on a variety of issues affecting the school and community’s future.

Christopher Nicak, Associate Director of Research at the Economics Center of the University of Cincinnati, presented on the local, regional and national economic forecast with a focus on jobs and future opportunities for today’s students. This is a huge focus for the Mercy McAuley transition team as they work to develop a curriculum and learning environment that will set their students up for success in academics and in the workforce.

In terms of local economics, it is important to note that Mercy McAuley is located on Cincinnati’s west side, which is not experiencing the same growth as many other neighborhoods. According to Christopher, the population is expected to remain relatively stagnant for the next 10 years, with only a small increase in school-aged children. That means Mercy McAuley will need to recruit outside its traditional neighborhoods to reach its desired enrollment, but determining who and where to recruit is a challenge for the transition team.

Apart from the economic and population growth on Cincinnati’s west side, most of the content in Christopher’s presentation was consistent with national trends and projections. These are issues students, schools and the workforce will face across the country, not just in Cincinnati.

As Brian David Johnson noted in his presentation about sentient tools, Christopher highlighted the effect new technology will have on the workforce over the next 10 years. The pace of technological advancement is moving much more quickly than people realize—up to 80 percent of jobs only requiring a high school diploma could be replaced by sentient tools in 10 years. When also considering jobs with high enough wages for workers to be self-sufficient, significantly more jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or another form of post-high school training.

However, neither a bachelor’s degree nor another credential guarantee a well-paying job that’s immune to automation—the specific field and skill set matter.

Christopher’s jobs outlook is important for other reasons, as well. Many teens pick up an after school or weekend job in food service, retail and other industries to learn valuable skills like customer service, problem solving and personal responsibility—the intangible skills that help students adapt in the future job market and make up well-rounded employees. Automation is the wave of the future in these industries, too; in fact, McDonald’s has already announced plans to replace cashiers with automated ordering kiosks in 2,500 restaurants. If high schoolers like Mercy McAuley’s students don’t have access to these job opportunities, how will they develop necessary employment skills needed for post-college careers?

This is another area of consideration for academic institutions like Mercy McAuley. Will its staff and curriculum somehow have to teach essential life skills in addition to reading, writing, math and science? Can schools like Mercy McAuley address the gap in entry-level positions by constructing curriculum that helps students develop perseverance, customer service, time and money management? These are the issues Mercy McAuley and similar high schools must grapple with as they face an uncertain and unimaginable future.

What I thought was most interesting during Christopher’s futurecasting session, however, was the opportunity the changing job market offers for high schools to be imaginative and innovative. Perhaps Mercy McAuley can be a model for other local institutions. If the school’s curriculum teaches all the important lessons of a summer or after-school job, perhaps it will become a magnet for students who don’t fall within the typical Mercy McAuley demographic. Maybe the school can even help the community thrive by becoming a reason families choose to live on the west side. Mercy McAuley’s transition team discussed these opportunities and more, proving that the spirit of innovation is alive and well!

Our society will always be in flux—students must be prepared to adapt, learn new skills and truly embrace their role as lifelong learners in an ever-changing world. But if Christopher’s presentation during the Mercy McAuley futurecasting session underscored anything, it’s that high schools must also be prepared to adapt to changing economic realities—and soon. Will your school view this challenge as an opportunity, as Mercy McAuley did?

In our next One School’s Journey post, I’ll look at how businesses are changing and how that impacts education. I hope you’ll stay tuned.