New Year’s Resolution: Build an Educated Workforce

Quality of Life Council
Chancellor’s Op/Ed Column

New Year’s Resolution: Build an Educated Workforce

Traditionally, the turn of a new year is a time for optimism. We are past the winter solstice and the days are getting longer. Spring may not be right around the corner, but it is a light at the end of the tunnel. We have made our New Year’s resolutions, and we intend 2003 to be a little better than 2002.

However, our optimism may be a little more guarded than usual this year. We face major uncertainties in our international relations: the continuing threat of terrorism, instability in the Middle East and a possible war in Iraq, and potential nuclear proliferation in North Korea.

The national economic picture is not much rosier. The anticipated recovery is neither as rapid nor as great as we have all hoped. Indiana, like most states in America, must deal with significant revenue shortfalls. The legislative budget session, which is about to begin, is likely to be very difficult. We all have a stake in our state’s ability to balance the budget and invest in the future.

Northwest Indiana’s colleges and universities have a role to play in shaping our future. We must do more of what we do best – produce well-educated, well-trained eager and capable graduates. They will be the talented, educated labor pool necessary to attract the kinds of jobs that will create a prosperous future for our region.

Grad Magazine, published by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and the Indiana Information Technology Association, identifies the 50 best jobs for the 21st Century based on a combination of annual earnings, projected openings and future job growth. The top five are:

  • Systems Analyst
  • Computer Engineer
  • Information Systems Manager
  • Financial Services Sales Agent
  • Computer Support Specialist

The list also includes many jobs in the health care industry, in education, in communications, and in a variety of services. These are all jobs with good salaries and growth potential. More than three-quarters of the jobs on the “top 50″ list require a college degree. Almost half of the top 15 jobs are in the computer field.

Energize Indiana, an economic investment proposal from the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, targets job development in four high-technology business sectors: advanced manufacturing, life sciences, information technology and 21st century logistics. These industries also require a college-educated work force. The people who are successful in these fields have both technical knowledge and the creativity that comes from a broad education grounded in the arts and sciences.

For Indiana to grow itself out of the looming deficit and create a healthy future, we must attract our fair share of 21st century businesses. A key element in this growth strategy is an educated workforce. New success-oriented businesses will not want to locate here if they cannot find employees with the needed knowledge and skills.

Northwest Indiana does not have a large proportion of adults who are college educated. In Lake County, for example, only 16 percent of adults 25 and older have college degrees. The total is 23 percent in Porter County and 25 percent nationally. To be competitive, we must build a pool of college graduates who will attract businesses with meaningful jobs. If we are successful, we will raise the economy of the entire region.

A study by the Milken Institute in 2002 found that “on average, a one-year increase in a metro area’s educational level raises wages by 3 to 5 percent.” The study concluded that: “the single factor with the greatest power to explain the differences in per capita income between states is the percentage of college graduates.”

Our goal is to keep a college education effective and affordable. The cost of education is shared by the student (through tuition) and the government (through state appropriations, federal grants, and state scholarship programs). Even with public support, the cost of education is a stretch for many of our citizens. The price of tuition should not be a barrier for an otherwise qualified Indiana resident to receive a college education. That is why privately funded scholarships are so important.

At Purdue University Calumet, scholarship students tend to be our most successful students. On average, they take more courses each semester, stay in school in greater numbers, and earn better grades than other students. Scholarship students persist at a rate that is 15 percent higher than non-scholarship students. They also have higher grade point averages (3.4 vs. 2.9). Scholarship students are likely to have a good understanding of the responsibility that goes with accepting the support of others to advance their own education. They also may work a little harder to show appreciation to the donors.

Scholarships are an investment in our region’s future. Students on scholarship are better able to devote more time to their studies and to make steady progress toward degree completion. They are more likely to graduate, and more likely to graduate sooner, than students who must work to cover the unsupported cost of their education. Scholarship donors have the satisfaction of knowing that they helped transform a student’s future. Local donors also have the satisfaction of knowing that they helped build the future of Northwest Indiana.