(CBS News) In all the excitement of high school graduation season, it's easy to overlook the fact that 1 in 4 American high school students drop out before getting their diploma. With job prospects for dropouts bleaker than ever, an innovative program is helping many of them get back on track.
This is a day many in this room thought would never come -- a day when 50 high school dropouts are receiving their diplomas.
The future is now looking much brighter for 19-year-old Nick Andino.
"I thought if I didn't finish school," he said, "the closest job I can get is pumping gas or flipping burgers at McDonalds."
Doug Stites, a recruitment professional for 30 years, said unlike in previous decades, unskilled plus unschooled equals unemployed. "The companies are creating no jobs for them," he said. "Zero."
"How are they ever gonna get a chance?" he added. "They're never going to buy a house, they're never going to buy a Harley. They're never gonna buy a new car. They're cut off from the economic middle class for the rest of their life."
There are 31 million high school dropouts in the U.S. -- more than half are unemployed. The majority of those under 30 who do have jobs work part-time and make an average of $9.400 a year.
But this class beat the odds. They found NewBridge, a 20-year-old public-private partnership that helps dropouts earn a high school diploma and places them in schools and jobs.
"These young adults are the ones that we pushed aside," said Robert Parker, NewBridge CEO. "But that's very shortsighted. They're going to collect food stamps and they're not going to be taxpayers. In a sense, we're investing in these people in order for them to pay back."
Brian Wells, a recent NewBridge graduate, is, at 19, already paying it back. "I feel like I'm 100 percent where I should be," he said.
NewBridge helped place this high school dropout at a top automotive school and then provided job leads. Wells is now a mechanic at a Mercedes dealership.
"I got my self-confidence," he said. "'I can get this, I can do this.' It is no longer 'I can't.'"
Which perfectly sums up Nick Andino's future as well -- future chef Nick Andino.
"I feel it's great to know that I will be going to college soon, and I will get a job that I want," he said.
"Six to 12 months ago they were sleeping late," said Parker. "And their parents were pulling their hair. And all of a sudden they're in a cap and gown walking in front of a crowd of people applauding and saying, 'You did it! You did it!'"
NewBridge is compiling an impressive report card. About 85 percent of the graduates will move on to college or vocational school, many while juggling jobs as well.