Guest Column

Is education the answer?

February 21, 2014 

In a recent conversation, an individual told me with great fervor, “Education is the answer to everything.” While education might not be the answer to everything, it is hard to separate much of what happens in life from the impact of education.

When you think about it, education could overcome many of the ills we continue to suffer. Just imagine what education could do to eradicate poverty, deter unemployment, spur community action, attack social injustice, provide economic growth, cause civility and heal physical infirmity – if given the opportunity to thrive.

Even still, the following statistics related to education are staggering. Nationally, less than 8 percent of part-time students complete a two-year associate’s degree within four years. Remediation is required for about 70 percent of all first-time students at JCC, and studies show these students are less likely to graduate than students who do not need remediation. While the demand for some level of higher education remains prevalent for the majority of new jobs in the future, a few years ago, only 38.5 percent of North Carolinians age 25 and older held an associate’s degree or higher. And whether graduated or not, the national debt carried by college students recently eclipsed $1 trillion.

An article published by N.C. State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues further highlights other challenges. By 2020, the article suggests, today’s 9-21-year-olds will comprise the emerging core of our workforce. This group is made up of the most ethnically diverse and techno-savvy generations ever but the least socially or civically involved. They are at risk of living shorter, less healthy lives than their parents, adding additional burden to creating and sustaining a viable workforce.

So what is JCC doing to accommodate the degree-completion agenda in light of today’s new student; increased job skill demands in health, education and professional occupations; underrepresented populations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and rising costs of education?

In his book, “That Used to be Us,” Tom Friedman wrote, “We’ve resigned ourselves to what is.” By that, he referenced the age-old adage that we have gotten used to how things are.

Well, not at JCC. We are breaking the rules as they are and looking at ways in which we can serve students better. For example, we are considering multiple ways in which the high school equivalency degree can be awarded; streamlining developmental education so the experience is supportive of educational attainment; developing specific pathways to transfer degrees so students can move to four-year institutions with confidence that the degree will be accepted; basing decisions on data, ensuring a culture of evidence to accomplish our mission; implementing academic pathways for student success; altering the norm with success efforts such as Agree 2 Degree, Career and College Promise programs and On the Write Path; engaging students with a strengthened approach to advising in our Center for Academic Planning; realigning current resources; securing distinctly different resources; and focusing on every opportunity to get our students in, through and out.

Is education the answer to everything? JCC is deeply engaged in finding out.

David N. Johnson is president of Johnston Community College.

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