Transforming higher education critical

First of two parts

By Anita Brown-Graham

North Carolina’s system of higher education recently has received elevated attention from leaders who, in differing ways, are concerned about the state’s growing workforce-skills gap.

In the past, the state’s traditional three-legged economic base of tobacco, furniture and textiles allowed some workers with little formal education to enjoy a relatively high standard of living.

Today, six out of every 10 jobs created in our knowledge-intensive economy require at least some postsecondary education and training.

Tomorrow, the percentage of jobs requiring education beyond 12th grade will be even higher. North Carolina must ensure that greater numbers of people have access to higher education and that our institutions of higher education produce graduates with the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce, both today and tomorrow.

We are falling short on both counts.

The North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development estimates that for each of the next 10 years, our state’s system of higher education must produce 15,000 more graduates a year of four-year or advanced-degree programs to meet economic needs.

In addition to failing to produce enough graduates demanded by our new economy, our workforce gap reflects problematic shortages of graduates in high-demand fields such as science, engineering and health care, and general inadequacies in the skills of many of those who do graduate from college.

The impact on the state’s economy and communities will be significant if we do not address these gaps.

Fortunately, many in the state, including its business community, stand ready to partner with institutions of higher learning to produce a 21st century workforce of adequate numbers and with skills needed to succeed in today’s economy.

Philanthropy must play a similar leadership role, and there are vast and varied opportunities for philanthropic organizations to partner with higher education and business to transform the educational opportunities offered in North Carolina.

For information about the Business Committee on Higher Education of the Institute for Emerging Issues, or for a copy of its recommendations, please visit the institute’s website or contact Michelle Goryn by email or by phone or 919.513.0803.

The work of the Business Committee on Higher Education of the Institute for Emerging Issues stands as one example of the significant partnership potential for business, philanthropic organizations, and the state’s systems of higher education — public and private universities and community colleges.

Spearheaded by Ann Goodnight of SAS and Bob Ingram of GlaxoSmithKline, the business committee included 24 top executives representing 19 industries across the state’s regions.

The committee worked diligently over the course of four months to produce a set of recommendations to transform higher education. Each recommendation has significant leadership implications for many, including business itself and philanthropists.

Next week: The recommendations

Anita Brown-Graham is director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University in Raleigh, N.C., and a member of the board of trustees of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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