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Philanthropy can help build workforce

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David Dodson

David Dodson

David Dodson

It’s been well documented that the South has a high school dropout problem. But we also have too many dropouts from community colleges and universities — and philanthropy ┬ácan play a significant role in solving the problem.

MDC’s just-published second installment of The State of the South 2010 finds most Southern states lag not just the U.S. but many developed nations in educational attainment.

Between high school and college — associate’s degrees, job training certificates, four-year diplomas — the South is losing students just when the region needs a well-educated workforce to help it emerge from a crippling recession.

By 2018, it is projected that 49 percent to 64 percent of jobs in Southern states will require some post-secondary education, or more simply, any education after high school that provides the skills and training necessary to compete for living-wage work.

And as the region’s largely white Baby Boomers move into retirement, the South will become increasingly reliant on a workforce more diverse than any it has ever seen.

Yet black and Hispanic students graduate at only half the rate of white students in some Southern states.

Helping to lead this effort must be the region’s philanthropic community.

In the Dan River region of southwestern Virginia, for example, philanthropy has helped transform a dying manufacturing economy into a thriving high-tech one with the skilled workforce necessary to attract national and international industries.

A leader of that effort has been the Danville Regional Foundation, which is working to build a more inclusive civic culture and an evidence-based roadmap for connecting more young people with the degrees and credentials necessary for living-wage jobs, particularly through Danville Community College.

And the Future of the Piedmont Foundation created the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, a $70 million research institute and incubator.

Now in Danville, closed textile mills are being replaced by IKEA subsidiaries that have well-trained workers to operate their computerized machinery.

In 2007’s The State of the South report, the authors described philanthropy as the South’s “passing gear” in transforming the region into a more economically robust and culturally equitable region.

Today, the region needs the bold, innovative, and visionary leadership of philanthropy to help mend the region’s leaky educational pipeline and connect more young adults to the jobs that will be essential for the South be a leader in the 21st century global economy.


David Dodson is president of MDC, a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit dedicated to advancing economic and educational opportunity.

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