RALEIGH (Feb. 20, 2019) – With buy-in from all sectors of education, the business community, the governor and legislative leaders, the myFutureNC Commission announced an ambitious goal today: 2 million North Carolinians ages 25-44 with a postsecondary credential or degree by 2030.
Currently, just 1.3 million North Carolinians in that age group – or 49% – have a high-quality credential or degree. Yet the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce projects that by 2020, 67% of jobs in North Carolina will require education beyond high school.
For the past year, myFutureNC – with members from the education, business, political, philanthropic and faith communities – has deliberated how to close that gap.
“If we want to expand economic opportunity for North Carolinians … we must increase educational attainment,” said Dale Jenkins, CEO of Medical Mutual Holdings and a Co-Chair of the Commission. “The key is simply not stopping your education when you graduate from high school.”
Jenkins noted that educational opportunity is not distributed evenly across the state.
“This is nothing short of a crisis,” he said. “Quite simply, this is not acceptable.”
Of 100 students who start 9th grade in North Carolina today, according to research at the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, only 30 will complete a two- or four-year degree.
“That’s not enough – it’s way too low, given how the job market is changing,” declared Jenkins.
“If we don’t take action, our state and our people will simply be left behind.”
The sobering numbers and rapidly changing job demands were repeated frequently by speakers at the announcement.
“We’re working to make sure all North Carolinians – all North Carolinians – realize their potential,” said President Peter Hans of the NC Community College System. “Community colleges are a ladder to the middle class. So count us in. Invest in us.”
Given that 80% of the 90,000 students at the state’s private colleges and universities need financial aid, said Hope Williams of the NC Independent Colleges & Universities, “A post-secondary credential or degree an mean the difference between poverty and economic security.”
Several speakers noted that it doesn’t always take a four-year degree to have a successful career. State Superintendent Mark Johnson pointed to electric line-workers as a job that requires community-college training.
“You can start off making $40,000 to $50,000. In just a few years, you can double that,” he said.
Jim Hansen of PNC Bank emphasized that the attainment effort needs to start with the state’s youngest students
“Early-childhood education is too often forgotten in the discussion of the education continuum,” Hansen said. “It is important that our youngest children … are taught well – but also that they retain their learning.”
As jobs become increasingly technical, he said, “If companies can’t find the workforce in North Carolina … those companies will move to states where the workforce can be found.”
THE EFFORT WILL REQUIRE support from political leaders as well. And in a state where the leadership sometimes seemed polarized, a Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders embraced the goal.
Gov. Roy Cooper pointed to rapid changes in job demands and noted that over half the jobs that today’s students will perform haven’t been invented yet.
The effort will require investments, though, and the governor pointed to two initiatives he has championed:
- Finish Line grants to help community college students complete their degrees when they encounter unforeseen expenses like a car repair, a medical emergency or a child-care crisis; and
- Tuition-free community college in high-demand fields like health care, technology and construction. “People do struggle to pay for their education,” Cooper said, but it will serve the business community to fill high-demand jobs.
NC Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, noted that not every student starts at the same place. But he insisted that opportunity shouldn’t be limited by a student’s wealth or lack thereof, the circumstances of their birth or their ZIP code.
“Education is the great equalizer,” he said.
Berger pointed to the success of measures like NC Promise – tuition of $500 a semester for in-state students at Western Carolina, UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State universities, as well as fixed tuition for eight semesters at other state universities.
Reaching the goal of 2 million with degrees or credentials “will ensure that North Carolina continues to have one of the best-educated workforce’s in the nation,” Berger said.
NC House Speaker Tim Moore said meeting the goal is key to the state’s continued economic growth.
Though it is one of the most ambitious goals in the South, “This goal can be reached. This is something that can be handled in a bipartisan fashion,” Moore said.
Goals are one thing, he said, but “the real proof of this is what we do … to make this a reality.”
Rep. John Fraley, R-Iredell and a key player in House discussions of education policy, said leaders will need to put aside personal and political agendas.
“Doing this is just a matter of making up our minds to do so,” Fraley said.