‘What are the odds of your graduating from college with only Algebra II math skills?” asks the poster in the high school hallway.

Answer — a mere 8 percent. That coveted college degree that translates into a highly prized job ticket has long been the target of middle and high school students. And the advice to choose higher level courses is solid. But this time, the students are taking it to heart — because of the source.

“This is your potential employer speaking,” students are told in the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s Foundation’s LearnDoEarn program. No messing around here. In a variety of media, students in school are given the very real standards employers require of them in academic, personal, and career arenas.

“Using LearnDoEarn to Enhance Student Achievement,” sponsored by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the state Department of Education, took place on Wednesday, January 13, at Montclair State University’s Student Center.

The career of workshop leader #b#Dana Egreczky#/b#, senior vice president for the NJ Chamber, Workforce Development, is amply steeped in both academic and business. A native of Clifton, Egreczky grew up the daughter of an Army lieutenant colonel eho later became a Garden State probation officer. She entered Montclair State University with plans for a medical career, but after receiving her biology bachelor’s in 1971, she turned to 16 years of teaching public schools. Egreczky eventually left academe for the private sector, where she held a series of positions as a corporate trainer.

Egreczky has worked with the State Chamber and its foundation for the past 13 years. Hers is the driving and creative force behind the LearnDoEarn project, currently employed by school systems in many states. It has won kudos and awards from a variety of state and national groups, including the Business Coalition for Educational Excellence.

“What we are doing” says Egreczky, “is leveraging the power of employers to move students toward more profitable choices and behaviors.” Using a variety of very carefully thought tools, they sway students in three distinct areas.

#b#Academics#/b#. You already have a job, the PowerPoint slide instructs students. You are a student — the CEO of yourself. Your company’s product is knowledge and wisdom. And the client is you. The more knowledge you accrue, and more you take it to heart, the better you will thrive.

“We try desperately to make the young people believe that today’s academics count lifelong,” says Egreczky. Students are urged to reach for the more advanced courses. They are given the tools and disciplines to take on those tough course challenges. And they are instilled with the belief that this will pay off not only spiritually, but in very real dollars.

Very specifically, they are told what courses are required for college survival and graduation, as well as what they must study electively for certain careers. Further, they are urged to move beyond the classroom to harvest this necessary knowledge.

#b#Behavior#/b#. Everyone in business knows that there’s a lot more to it than just knowing the right stuff. Brilliant folks get themselves fired every day. LearnDoEarn students learn the benefits of respect and the techniques to show it. The not-so-easy challenges of teamwork are explained. These advanced behaviors, along with more basic ones, such as promptness, showing up daily, dressing properly, and dependably fulfilling expected tasks, are presented to students, both as requirements as well as tools for reaching the top.

“Our goal is to get these practices set early, while in school,” says Egreczky, “so they will become fixed habits through college and on into the business world.” Toward that end, teachers, who may read a LearnDoEarn PowerPoint slide show out loud along with their class, bring trial workshops into the school activities: “All right Johnny, you definitely feel that your American History teacher loathes you. Now, what sort of respect do you owe him? How have you treated him in the past? What behavior do you think might turn him around?”

#b#Personal choices#/b#. This is perhaps the scariest part of the LearnDoEarn instruction. Increasingly, employers are delving into the personal habits and lives of prospective employees. And today, as Sun Microsystem’s CEO Scott McNealy notes, “You have zero privacy — get over it.”

Surveys have noted that 45 percent of employers are searching Facebook and other social media to ferret out facts on candidates and existing employees. Drug testing, Egreczky claims, has become a tool used by the majority of employers in recent years. Your driving record, credit records, legal records — all may be easily accessed and be considered in making employment or advancement decisions. Many employers are not hiring smokers (and others with varying health risks) due to the higher insurance costs to the company.

“We are trying to help students understand that the habits they choose will affect their entire careers,” says Egreczky. “If they choose wisely, they will survive in the business world.” If there is any fault to be found in the LearnDoEarn program, it may perhaps lie with the negative tone of this third instructive segment. The positive, career, and life enhancing aspects are scant. The ponderous call to avoid sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll seems to weigh in heavily, backed with only the threat of unemployment.

All of this may seem somewhat reminiscent of a “Scared Straight” program for students. If you are veering toward that long, very undesirable pathway of jail or unemployment, let us set you straight. Certainly, for businesses, LearnDoEarn satisfies a certain self-interest of shaping students into the productive workforce they require.

But the key to wisdom is to never consider the source. Examine the program’s advice, and look to those students receiving it. Most any adult in the business community who views a LearnDoEarn module will, with a shake of the head, find some nugget he wishes that someone had pounded into his skull way back in school. He would have been a much more productive and satisfied individual today. And with LearnDoEarn, that’s exactly the kind of break students are getting.

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