What will become of the current generation of those under 21 years of age? What role will they have in the economy of the future in the workforce? Some have said that they will be the first generation of Americans to be generally worse off than their parents. Some believe that our economy is not strong enough to absorb them in a way that will provide a lifestyle comparable to their parents and grandparents. How likely is this prediction?
This rather pessimistic view is only likely if we assume that wealth and affluence can only be inherited. If we assume that wealth can be created and affluence can be obtained, we can assume that this generation is no less likely to be successful than any other. Is the willingness to work enough? A willingness to work hard will only provide a slim opportunity to succeed.
Working smart is much more likely to create affluence than working hard. Working smart requires a substantial degree of economic utility. Economic utility may be defined as workforce knowledge that can be traded for an income substantially above a subsistence wage. How does one create enough economic utility to enhance the likelihood that they will be affluent? How does one create enough economic utility to improve the likelihood that they will have a lifestyle equal to or better than your parents?
Education likely has a high correlation to economic utility. Higher education and workforce training two years post high school graduation in 2014, is as essential to success now as a high school diploma was in 1960. Two years of higher education will likely involve more than just an attainment of skills. Education must include an attempt to teach and measure an individual’s ability for high-level thinking, creativity, and problem solving. Obviously, the foundation requiring this level of higher education must be strong.
Students must be able to demonstrate true functional literacy and numeracy before they can attempt to obtain adequate skills through workforce education. As a country, we’ve attempted to identify and measure those competencies needed to contribute to society. As a state, we identified those competencies needed to be considered to have achieved a basic high school education. The American Council of Education has identified enhanced competencies needed to earn a general education diploma or GED.
Forward-thinking communities have also realized the correlation between the number of adults who are functionally illiterate and have some higher education with local economic prosperity. Communities that can legitimately market themselves as having a large number of educated adults are able to attract employers willing to pay a living wage. Communities that can document the successes of high school graduates and GED earners are able to attract economic developers seeking to place new industry.
Communities that have successfully educated a large number percentage of their population are often able to encourage existing industries to expand in place. Communities where a large number of adults have obtained two years or more of a college education are likely to attract families who are concerned about their children’s educational options. Per capita income is substantially higher in communities that have an educated population base. The economic multiplier and accelerator that determines the standard of income and quality of life is greater in communities that demonstrate that they value higher education.
Is Albany, Ga., an affluent community with a highly educated? If not, can we quickly achieve the status of an educated community? I am optimistic that if we are not, we already have the resources needed for positive change. More importantly, we have started to demonstrate the will to change. We have a progressive K-12 school system that is willing to implement those processes that will help us succeed. We value higher education enough to encourage high school students to persist to graduation. We encourage our high school students to earn college credits while they are still in high school. We see the value of earning a certificate or associate degree in high school as a deterrent to dropping out.
Our community embraces public and private endeavors that are designed to encourage younger dropouts to return to school. We encourage those who are older than the typical high school dropout to attend adult education classes and earned a GED. Adult education courses are offered at no cost to the consumer. PELL and HOPE grants provide workforce education at little or no charge to a majority of our citizenry. Albany Technical College, Darton State College, Albany State University, and the Dougherty County School System are devising plans that will substantially increase the likelihood that each entity will succeed and do more to create economic prosperity.
If we are to remain economically competitive, we must continue to improve our educational standing. I believe that we are poised, and ready to ascend the ladder to economic and community greatness. We will only fail by not continuing to climb.
Dr. Anthony Parker is president of Albany Technical College.