“Complete what you start.” We’ve all heard that before. Students at North Idaho College and colleges and universities across the nation are hearing it more than ever before. It is a charge from educators and elected officials that comes from Washington, D.C., to state capitols, and from state capitols to local institutions. The message is very clear: The future of our nation’s economy depends upon our students receiving the education and training required to fill skill-based and technology-oriented jobs of today and tomorrow.
There is a new reality for job seekers. More and more jobs will require post-secondary education even for entry-level employment. A Bureau of Labor Statistics projection for future employment through 2018 estimates that once the economy recovers we can expect an overall increase in employment of 10 percent. Occupations requiring an associate’s degree are projected to grow the fastest with a rate of 19 percent. Occupations requiring a four-year degree will grow rapidly at a rate of 17 percent. The report also points out that occupations requiring vocational or technical certifications will grow at a healthy 13 percent. Occupations requiring less education and training will still grow, but at a rate below the average. This data supports projections that more than 60 percent of jobs in 2018 will require some college education and up to half will require a bachelor’s degree.
There is a new reality for employers as well. The United States has been under-producing college educated workers since about 2000. Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, revealed this problem in a recent report, “The Undereducated American.” The report made the case that the United States needs 20 million more college educated workers to support a growing and vibrant economy. These new realities are why we are now focused on “completing.”
The completion challenge is the state of Idaho’s goal to have 60 percent of Idahoans, aged 25-34, earn a degree or a career certificate by 2020. NIC has, in fact, begun this process by establishing a new position and hiring an adviser for completion and transferability. We have also involved the greater campus community by establishing a Completion Task Force that is charged with identifying and removing barriers to completion. These barriers may exist in various areas including our procedures, practices, policies and programs. Further, the task force will make recommendations to eliminate or reduce barriers to completion.
NIC has identified strategies and initiatives to guide the college toward meeting the completion challenge. Students with the NIC chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges, will work directly with the current student body to provide information on the importance of graduating. They will then go one step beyond and ask students to sign a pledge of completion for their program. The students leading this initiative have great enthusiasm and we expect very positive outcomes for this student-to-student program. In addition, the college will focus on graduation advising. We will ensure that students know requirements for graduation early in their programs and help them plan accordingly. For students who have transferred to four-year institutions prior to graduating from NIC, we will explore ways for them to “reverse transfer” credits back to NIC to qualify for graduation.
Adding new programs and modifying curriculum to increase the number of degree and certificate options available to our students is also in progress. Increasing the number of dual credit classes we offer throughout the region will be an emphasis as well. Historically, dual credit students have a very high completion rate when they come to NIC as full-time students. Therefore, by getting more dual credit participation, we will attract more new students predisposed to completing what they start.
We must remedy Idaho’s very serious skills gap. Currently, only 34 percent of Idaho adults have at least an associate’s degree. It will take bold action to prepare our students to fill the 63 percent of jobs in 2020 that will require a career certificate or college degree. NIC is fully committed to meeting the state’s completion goals. We believe our strategies and initiatives will provide our region and the state the quality graduates needed to support the needs of tomorrow’s business community and help ensure the vitality of our economy.
Priscilla Bell, Ph.D., is president of North Idaho College. For comments on this column, email her at PresidentsColumn@NIC.EDU.