Do North Carolinians need four-year degrees to be successful? According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections, those who decide to enter the workforce without a four-year degree may have more employment opportunities than those with one.
BLS analysts predict that jobs requiring a high school diploma or less will abound in the next decade. Of the 30 occupations projected to have the largest numeric growth in jobs, only six require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Only two of those occupations, registered nurses and general and operations managers, are among the 20 occupations projected to add the highest number of jobs through 2022.
Similarly, the N.C. Employment Security Commission projects that service industries, education and health services, professional and business services, and health care and social assistance will have the largest employment growth through 2020. The largest estimated declines will be in agriculture, apparel and furniture manufacturing, and textile mills.
And elected officials have taken notice.
In 2013, Gov. Pat McCrory championed, and the N.C. General Assembly passed, legislation to increase access to career and technical education. Session Law 2013-1 directed the State Board of Education to develop career and college endorsements for high school diplomas, boost access to career and technical education teachers in public schools, and work with the State Board of Community Colleges to increase the number of students enrolling in career and technical education (CTE) in high-need employment areas. A renewed focus on career and technical education is only a first step, but it is a welcome one for employers and citizens.
- The number of industry recognized credentials earned by North Carolina CTE students has risen sharply in recent years. During the 2010-11 school year, North Carolina students received nearly 25,000 career and technical education credentials. By 2012-13, that figure rose to over 104,000 credentials. Around 40 percent of the 2012-13 credentials were awarded for acquiring basic proficiency using Microsoft PowerPoint and Word.
- Selected career and technical education students in 12th grade will complete the WorkKeys assessment. Scores will help students determine if they have the skills needed for particular jobs or professions. In addition, students who meet WorkKeys standards can earn a National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) showing that they have met basic requirements for entry into a profession.
- Dispel the myth that all high school graduates should pursue college degrees. If we did so, students who are ill prepared for college would not incur massive student loan debt, and taxpayers would not be compelled to subsidize their pursuit of four-year degrees. Employers would enjoy a larger, arguably better prepared, pool of candidates from which to hire. Most importantly, BLS projections suggest that these students would have plentiful employment opportunities for years to come.
- Starting in middle school, give public school students opportunities to pursue vocational or advanced training in preparation for a career after graduation. CTE programs should start in middle school, when many students lose interest in the traditional academic setting. This would give students ample time to change CTE program areas, obtain advanced skills in multiple areas, or switch to a college-preparatory course of study.
- If high schools are to remain the primary pipeline for workers in high-demand fields, then we must ensure that our K-12 schools provide baseline skills and knowledge to all students. All high school graduates should possess adequate literacy and computational skills, know basic facts about the world around them, and be able to use those facts to think, write, and speak critically and analytically.
- Expand school choice. Increasing access to charter, private, and online schools would encourage entrepreneurs to develop specialized career and technical schools suitable for students in their communities.
- Community colleges and universities should continue to invest scarce resources in professional training and degree programs that correspond to the needs of our workforce. While this does not preclude support for other academic disciplines, funding priorities should, in part, reflect the supply and demand for qualified workers in fields such as nursing, business management, accounting, teaching, and computer programming.