From StarNews Editorial Board:
If you haven’t already, we highly encourage you to read Thursday’s OpEd piece by UNC System President Margaret Spellings. While Spellings points out significant accomplishments at UNCW, she is very frank about a critical problem for our region and elsewhere across the state -- overall, our workforce does not have the level of education that employers require.
While we work hard to lure businesses to North Carolina, a bigger priority should be ensuring workers are prepared to fill not only any new jobs that might come here, but the jobs already here. The current numbers on that front are not encouraging.
In two years, Spellings points out, 65 percent of all jobs will require a degree or some credential beyond a high school diploma. We are nowhere near meeting that need. In Columbus County, for example, only 24 percent of residents have a degree or credential beyond high school. In Brunswick County, that number is 35 percent; it’s 49 percent in New Hanover and 36 percent in Pender. The state average is 47 percent.
The good news -- and something we should take pride in -- is that UNCW is taking bold steps to improve those dismal numbers. For example, the university is aggressively pursuing significant increases in enrollment by rural- and low-income students. And the university has a proven record of increasing quality along with enrollment
Several parts of President Spellings’ strategy and vision stand out:
First, having the state’s public universities focused on transforming our workforce and empowering and fueling regional economies is not just an edict from on high. The strategy is part of a very specific roadmap and very intentional steps are being taken. And perhaps most important, the steps are not being implemented by the UNC System or in a one-size-fits-all strategy. Each of the 17 UNC institutions has a strategy tailored to specific needs and a specific part of the state. In other words, UNCW will target the specific needs of our region; East Carolina and Western Carolina universities have specific strategies, and so forth.
Second, accountability and transparency are priorities. UNCW’s role in transforming the workforce is not just a suggestion. Data will be shared and progress will be measured. That’s why it is so important that this mission is undertaken by each school rather than by the larger UNC System. (Our state is too big and too economically and demographically diverse to do otherwise.) It will be the responsibility of UNCW to keep the people it serves informed of its progress, and the duty of us all to hold the school accountable. The university serves the people, a fact both President Spellings and UNCW Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli are adamant about.
Third, and finally, from what we have learned about President Spellings, we are convinced that she is the right person for this job. Like Chancellor Sartarelli, President Spellings is skilled and comfortable in both the worlds of business and academics.
She has put forth a vital and practical vision and a very achievable road map to get us there. We hope the members of the UNC Board of Governors will put aside any lingering political and ideological infighting and get behind their fine president and let her lead our great state university.
In the face of the dismal workforce-preparedness numbers President Spellings shared, we no longer can accept business as usual.