Nearly Half of Adults in LaGrange County Never Finished High School

By Stephanie Parkinson - 21Alive

December 12, 2013 Updated Dec 12, 2013 at 7:15 PM EDT

LAGRANGE COUNTY, Ind. (21Alive) - A new report from Northeast Indiana Works shows 44.1% of adults in LaGrange County never finished high school. Meanwhile, Whitley County proudly has less than 9% falling in that same category.

The difference in these numbers may appear shocking, but for LaGrange County it also represents a different culture since they have a large Amish population.

"There are a number of employers in LaGrange County who utilize the skills of the Amish who haven't graduated from high school," said Rick Farrant, Northeast Indiana Works.

However, there is a shift happening in what employers are looking for in applicants.

"There are reports that suggest that in our region 62% of all jobs by 2018 are going to require a high school equivalency or diploma," said Farrant.

The Amish culture is known for stopping their education after the 8th grade, but some Amish adults are starting to see the value in a high school education.

"As you mentioned, the Amish population coming back to get the GED, because many factories now are saying, we're not going to hire without a GED," said Eva Merkel, principal, Lakeland High School.

Outside the Amish culture principals at high schools in both LaGrange and Whitley counties believe education is passed down by generation. In LaGrange County, past generations were able to find work easily without that education.

"The older population who got out there, you know made a living, got a solid job, stayed in that job," said Merkel.

In Whitley County, those past generations saw more of a value in education.

"Once you get that feeling of, education is important, that transcends future generations," said Jennifer Reiff, principal, Columbia City High School.

Outside the numbers, to some degree, both counties still face the challenge of convincing students to stay in school.

"We all have to do certain things to make us well rounded people and to be able to answer the questions that may come. In a math class specifically you have to learn processes. You have to learn how to get from point A to point B. We might all get there differently but we have to still get there," said Reiff.

And it seems to be working for the next generation of adults. Both Columbia City High School and Lakeland High School have graduation rates above 92%.

"It's refreshing. You always wonder if you're making that difference so to hear those numbers is very encouraging to the work that we do here every single day," said Reiff.

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