The shifting landscape in higher education is creating a myriad of challenges that are impacting colleges and universities both statewide and nationally. Concerns precipitated by the economic recession are at the top of the list.
One impact of the recession has been heightened levels of public concern about the cost and benefits of a college education. Families and students are asking, “Is college worth it?” And no wonder: much attention is being paid to rising tuition and student debt.
But we should also be talking about another topic: Ohio faces a severe talent gap that threatens our continued economic recovery and growth.
More than 60 percent of jobs in Ohio in 2020 will require some postsecondary education; but only 37 percent of working-age adults in Ohio have an associate’s degree or higher. While Ohio’s economy is rebounding now and gaining momentum, and colleges are committed to doing their part, that critical talent gap threatens our continued progress.
In today’s economy, Ohioans are looking for pathways to careers. Ohio’s public universities will play a major role—collaborating with K-12, industry, communities, policymakers, and each other—in helping Ohioans find those pathways to the jobs of the 21st century.
For Ohio to thrive we must invest in our single most important resource: our workforce.
A recent statewide poll of likely voters in Ohio makes it clear that Ohioans value higher education and consider support for higher education a state policy priority. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Ohioans identify public college and university education as a state funding priority—placing higher education among voters’ top three priorities, along with K-12 education and job creation. The poll, which was commissioned by the Inter-University Council of Ohio, said that Ohioans overwhelmingly value higher education for their family and for our state.
Ohioans also know that a college degree has never been more important for their personal success, with 76 percent considering higher education a good investment. A strong majority (93 percent) of likely voters aspire for their children and grandchildren to attend college. On a societal level, a strong majority (89 percent) of likely voters aspire to have a higher education system that rivals the nation’s best. These attitudes signal a willingness among Ohioans to support investments in key public priorities that deliver quality, value and advantage.
Thousands of new students are starting—or going back—to school this month. At Central State University and Wright State University, we are serving 21st century students with a wide range of backgrounds and with a variety of needs. We are proud of meeting these students where they are academically, experientially, and financially. We define our success not by how selective we are, but by how many students we can serve that have potential. We are developing the next generation of leaders who will make a difference throughout the state and beyond.
We must serve more Ohio citizens, improving student access, success and completion of credentials that are relevant for employers in the 21st century. Colleges will see more veterans, more diverse student populations, more adults returning from the workforce, and more students requiring skill sets that are typically needed to succeed in college. They are an important part of the solution to fill the gap in educational attainment.
Closing Ohio’s talent pool gap, and increasing Ohioans’ educational attainment levels, must be a state priority. If we can do that, we will be able to write a remarkable story of progress for Ohio.
Cynthia Jackson-Hammon is the President of Central State University and David R. Hopkins is the President of Wright State University.