Editorial: New minimum in education

  • Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 12:33 a.m.

Now that North Carolina has raised its high school graduation rate from 68.3 percent in 2006 to 82.5 in 2013 — and Rowan-Salisbury’s graduation rate has risen even higher — here’s a message from the workplace: That’s not enough.

The evolving “new minimum” in education also requires high school grads to get some post-secondary education — not to fill the halls of academia but to prepare skilled workers to earn a good wage.

Tony Almeida, the governor’s advisor on jobs and the economy, spoke to the Salisbury Rotary Club Tuesday about the impact of recent legislation on the economy and the challenges ahead. (Look for a Q&A in Sunday’s Post.) When asked how Rowan County could make itself more attractive to prospective industry, Almeida mentioned two things: sites and education. He focused on post-secondary education. Currently, he said, 28 percent of the workforce has some level of post-secondary education. By 2020 the need is projected to be 41 percent or more. “We have a huge gap to close,” Almeida said, when it comes to college degrees, community college diplomas and certificates. For example, it’s not enough to take one welding course, he said; future workers will need to complete the welding courses.

Leaders in the community college system have been saying as much for years. Encouraging students to seek four-year degrees is fine, but a two-year degree or certificate program may be a more practical route to boosting job prospects — and attracting industry to the community.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin spelled it out at a recent higher education summit in New York. The summit was sponsored by Time magazine, which said Fallin argued that a high school diploma was enough to qualify a student for 75 percent of U.S. jobs 50 years ago — but no more. Now that diploma qualifies someone for only 40 percent of jobs, and low-paying ones at that. Two-thirds pay less than $25,000 a year.

“The new minimum in education is that someone has to have a post-secondary degree of some sort, whether it is a license or a certificate or an associate degree,” Fallin said. “That’s the only way America is going to stay competitive.”

Any form of post-secondary education may seem like a luxury to young people searching for a way to support themselves in a jobless recovery. That’s another gap the state needs to close — helping more young high school grads find a way to reach for better opportunities.

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