The education advantage Featured

6:46am EDT December 27, 2005
You may already be familiar with the new Ohio Means Business campaign. The Ohio Business Development Coalition is placing pro-Ohio business advertisements in national publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Fortune. It’s a comprehensive marketing effort to show the nation’s business leaders the benefits of doing business in Ohio.

To this point, a new study from Site Selection magazine reveals that our state has the nation’s fourth best business climate according to its 2005 rankings.

All of this news is encouraging amidst a trend of the decline of traditional manufacturing jobs in the Midwest. Yet, we must do more to diversify our economy, especially in rural areas. One way to reach our business goals as a state is by increasing our focus on higher education for those in the work force.

According to a recent poll by the KnowledgeWorks foundation, Ohioans overwhelmingly agree that a college education is as important as getting a high school diploma once was years ago. In fact, only 32 percent of Ohioans agree that high school graduates are well prepared for the work force.

A majority of the new jobs created in this decade will require education beyond high school, yet Ohio’s adults are still lagging behind. Only 24 percent of Ohioans have a bachelor’s degree according to 2004 US Census Data, compared to more than 28 percent of the American public.

Census data also shows that a bachelor’s degree can nearly double your salary. Workers 18 and older with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $51,206 a year, while those with a high school diploma earn $27,915. Workers with an advanced degree make even more money, averaging $74,602, and those without a high school diploma average just $18,734.

What does all this data mean? And, more important, how can we encourage more of Ohio’s working adults to go back to school? While the challenge is great, there are three simple steps we can take to move in the right direction.

  • Make education accessible. The vast majority of adults cannot take four years off from work to attain a higher education degree. That’s why potential students need to find programs that offer courses at times outside of traditional work hours.

Several institutions offer night and weekend programs, which make it easier for adults to earn their degrees. Further development of these programs should be encouraged in both public and private institutions. Ohio’s working adults cannot afford to sacrifice their future education goals because of scheduling challenges.

  • Make education relevant. Many of us remember the stereotypical college lecture hall, with the witty (or dry) college professor espousing theory to the masses.

While theory is important, today’s working adults demand to know how academic theory is relevant to their careers — and their lives. We must continue to encourage institutions to teach courses that allow our workforce to apply class work in the office the very next day.

  • Make education affordable. College is getting increasingly expensive, but it is still an excellent investment. Colleges and universities need to better publicize scholarships and grants that are available to all students, including adult learners.

The government has several programs available to help adults finance their education, yet many prospective students are unaware of the financial aid. A personal meeting with a financial aid counselor will help prospective students better understand that financing college doesn’t have to be painful.

There are several other ways that we must encourage adults to earn higher degrees, yet we can make major progress by committing ourselves to these three ideas. We know that Ohio means business, but business will only come if Ohio continues to improve adult education.

We’re no longer a capital of manufacturing. We must face that new reality with confidence, assured that we’re doing everything we can to help adults achieve their potential — and improve the state’s economy.

Eric Ziehlke is campus director for the University of Phoenix — Columbus campus. The University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private university with more than 280,000 students at more than 172 campuses in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Reach Ziehlke at Eric.Ziehlke@phoenix.edu.