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Diplomas are a great goal — but an incomplete story. Here’s why.

  • Joanna
  • February 14, 2017

Stacey Scott’s accomplishment should not be dismissed in any way.

The 30-year-old mother of four from Alabama overcame tremendous adversity on the way to earning her GED this week.

But as heart-warming as it was to read about Scott’s journey from frequent joblessness to the graduation stage, it’s important to remember that a diploma of any kind — from a GED to a PhD — isn’t an indicator of success. And until the education that document represents is put into action, it’s worth nothing more than the paper on which it’s printed.

That’s why the second part of Scott’s story is so important. She didn’t just earn a GED, but also a set of credentials demonstrating her ability to be effective in a wide range of jobs.

And she’s not stopping there, either. She is also enrolled at Gadsen State Community College to learn to be a welder — training made possible by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

“Welding is very challenging, but I love it,” Scott told The Gadsen Times. “I’m not a girly-girl, so this is right up my alley. I like to get dirty. I work on cars. Now, I want to learn to weld. It’s something I’m very interested in. I come home dirty and smelly, but I love it.”

Yes, it feels good to celebrate the earning of various educational and workforce credentials — and we shouldn’t stop doing that. And yes, Scott’s experiences should be shared, both in honor of what she has done and in recognition that such stories inspire others to work toward their educational goals.

But these experiences are all just waypoints. The real signs of success — indeed, the outcomes Americans must watch for as we assess the effectiveness of WIOA-funded programs — will come when Scott gets a job, keeps it, and becomes promotable over time.

Admittedly, “Local woman overcomes obstacles, earns diploma” is a more compelling headline than “Local woman maintains steady employment, eyes promotion.” But as we enter a period of time in which the longer-term benefits of WIOA begin to reveal themselves, we’ll nonetheless be eager to tell stories just like that.

Good luck, Stacey. We’re confident the most important part of your story is still yet to be told.