Many students in Sandy High School's class of 2011 are preparing to leave the relative comfort of their high schools for the adventures that life brings next.

These students are justifiably proud and happy about completing 12 years of school in an environment that - in contrast to common belief - requires ever-greater rigor in education. But we also hope most of these students have future plans that include something more than simply diving into the world of work.

A high school education, for most people, should be the foundation for further learning and not an end goal in itself. We've all seen the statistics comparing the earnings of high school graduates to college graduates. But it's worth repeating the fact that most graduates with four-year degrees will be hired into jobs that pay anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent more than the jobs available to young people with only a high school diploma.

The gap grows even wider when high school graduates are compared with those who have master's degrees and doctorates. Plus, people with higher levels of education enjoy more stability in the job market.

But the path to greater economic success for individuals as well as communities doesn't always require attendance at four-year universities. Many of today's students may opt for a middle road - training at a community college that provides them with a specific skill that can set the stage for immediate earning power and continued, lifelong learning.

The slow economy of the present will make it difficult for students to find meaningful work straight out of high school. This reality should help students recognize that high school is important, but not enough. Yes, they may have to work and go to school at the same time - or aggressively seek out grants and loans. But the effort expended in obtaining the next level of education - whether a two-year, four-year or advanced degree - will pay benefits in income and personal satisfaction for a lifetime.

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