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Public Education, Workforce Development Related

By Andy Brack
Wednesday, December 18, 2013 |
Public education and workforce development are two sides of the same coin. Maybe if more of our political leaders realized that, there would be much less bickering over investments in our children’s future.

An October report by the S.C. Education Oversight Committee (EOC) should scare the pants off of our leaders. It shows South Carolina is not ready — by a long shot — for the future jobs that will require more critical thinking skills, more math and more science.

“By 2020, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce projects that 62 percent of the jobs in South Carolina will require postsecondary education,” the report reads. “Postsecondary includes an associate’s degree or some postsecondary vocational certificate. 

“As of 2011, the United States Census Bureau estimates that only 34 percent of the working-age population in South Carolina had at least an associate degree,” it continues. “The relationship between public and higher education has never been so critical to the economy of our state and to the future of our citizens.”


Translation: We need to double the number of South Carolinians with education after high school.

But to pour more salt into a festering education wound, South Carolina isn’t even graduating enough students from high school. 

According to the June 2012 Diploma Counts report from Education Week magazine and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, South Carolina ranks near the bottom — 48th of 50 states — in the number of ninth graders who go on to graduate from high school. Only 61.7 percent of students in the freshman class of 2009 graduated from high school, which means that more than a third of South Carolina’s high school students are dropping out or failing to finish high school on time. And while the state graduation rate is much better than 47.1 percent from 10 years earlier, there are still thousands of kids who aren’t in school and won’t have the skills needed to excel in the 21st century job market.

Hence, the challenges faced by our K-12 public education system directly relate to the quality of the workforce that our state has to offer. If South Carolina can’t supply the workforce that companies need, they’ll move elsewhere — or move out-of-state people here to fill those positions, which doesn’t do much to help natives without jobs.

“A high school diploma isn’t enough anymore,” said Melanie Barton, executive director of the state EOC. “Until the K-12 and higher education communities come together in this state, I really don’t know where we’re going in this state.”

“It’s going to take higher expectations, more technology in the classrooms and teachers who understand that we’re preparing kids for careers, not just crossing that stage,” she adds.

Newly minted state Sen. Marlon Kimpson (D-Charleston) agrees that educating students from an early age through graduation essentially is long-term workforce development.

“One issue that’s bipartisan is economic development,” he said. “If changing the terminology from ‘funding education’ to ‘funding workforce development’ is something that appeals to the majority, then I’m in favor of talking about it in the same terms. It’s essentially the same thing.”

A couple of strategies to generate more South Carolinians with postsecondary education include:

• Changing the senior year. Barton said the EOC has been talking about replacing the exit exam for seniors with another test for 11th graders to determine how ready they are for educational opportunities after high school. Then by transforming the senior year, students ready for college-level work can get a head start during the senior year. Students who need remediation to improve skill levels so they can excel after high school can get the help they need senior year — and not waste time for remediation in college.

• Technical college. Ben Dillard, president of Florence-Darlington Technical College, says parents today understand that tech schools offer more than job training. In tight times, students have been taking advantage of lower tuitions — at least half the cost of four-year colleges, if not less — but enjoyed the same quality in the base-level first two years of study found at universities. 
“Our schools are focusing on much more than workforce development,” he said.

Bottom line: South Carolina’s leaders need focus like a laser beam on education and invest now if they want a healthy economic future.
 
Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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