Charleston Daily Mail editorial: College-going culture can help drive economy

From the Charleston Gazette-Mail. 

The statistics are well-known: West Virginia has the fewest adults with bachelor’s degrees, the fewest number of adults working and the highest student loan default rate in the country.

Combating those statistics is hard, but something Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill works to do every day.

Hill and other HEPC officials met with a combined Gazette-Mail editorial board Tuesday to talk about the challenges West Virginia faces when it comes to post-secondary education. Hill wants to create a “college-going culture” in West Virginia.

Though that may sound difficult, there are some things working in West Virginia’s favor. For instance, the cost of attendance is considerably lower than what students would pay in other states. Add to that scholarships like the Promise and the state’s Higher Education Grant, and students generally see a considerable reduction in price.

Even while the state cuts its budget and institutions are strapped for cash, the state works to offset those costs so students are as unaffected as possible, Hill said.

HEPC also works to debunk stigmas and myths about college. One initiative, Gear Up, goes into high schools, middle schools and sometimes elementary schools to start a conversation and educate students about higher education.

Increasing our state’s college enrollment is imperative. Reports Gazette-Mail higher education writer Sam Speciale: “Research shows nearly 50 percent of jobs in West Virginia will require some postsecondary training or a college degree by 2020. Only 27 percent of the state’s workforce currently has at least a two-year degree.”

Part of the decline in college enrollment can be attributed to the economic recession and decline of key industries like coal. But those who do attend and complete college may find a thriving job market on the other side.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. employers say they plan to hire 11 percent more college graduates this year than last. A recent Michigan State University survey shows a 15 percent jump in hiring for new graduates across all degree programs. 

An outlook by the National Association of Colleges and Employers suggests prospects for the class of 2016 “could surpass those of this past summer’s graduates, who entered one of the best hiring markets in recent memory,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

West Virginia needs trained workers to compete for jobs and drive the economy. Completing college is just a first step in helping our state thrive. Hill and other officials, as well as the institutions, deserve credit for taking appropriate steps to graduate more students.