LOCAL VOICES LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
By Thomas Lasley and Byron White
For some time, Ohio has needed more workers who have skills for in-demand jobs. In the wake of COVID-19, it is evident that Ohio needs that and more. More than filling available jobs today, employees must have the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills required for dealing with emergent challenges, most of which we don’t even understand yet. Policy makers and education and business leaders have to be even more committed to ensuring that more Ohioans earn a college degree or credential. No one is going to be prepared to successfully advance in a career or in life over the next 50 years with just a highschool education. Intellectual talent has long been the driving indicator in determining communities’ economic vitality. But going forward, communities will need intellectual talent just to economically survive. Tomorrow’s new, well-paying, secure jobs will require higher-level skills, training and education. Employers are going to keep shedding lowskilled jobs. Ohio has been slow to respond to the intellectual talent challenge. The Lumina Foundation, reports that only 48.4% of the adult working-age population (ages 25 to 64) in the United States has some type of marketable degree or credential. In Ohio, that figure is even lower — 45.5%. And this level of education attainment is still less for Ohioans of color, those who live in urban and rural communities, and those who are low-income. By comparison, 58% of Massachusetts residents, and 56% of Minnesota residents, have earned a degree or credential. Ohio’s talent figures match Michigan’s, and exceed Indiana’s, but they are below Kentucky and Pennsylvania. A number of groups and organizations from across Ohio have been meeting with policy makers to determine ways to more aggressively bridge the talent gap. Our organizations, Learn to Earn Dayton and StrivePartnership in Cincinnati, are among several community-based, collective impact organizations focused on education that have joined with networks such as Philanthropy Ohio and Ohio Excels to increase educational attainment in the state. Our efforts include identifying how to reduce student debt so that more students will pursue and complete their degree or credential; aggressively helping students complete their FAFSA forms to make college affordable; and enlisting students who have “stopped-out” of their post-secondary studies to re-enroll and complete their degrees. We are particularly focused on ensuring that these efforts stem the racial, geographic and economic disparities in academic achievement that are too prevalent. Some have argued that COVID-19 is our generation’s Pearl Harbor. We contend this crisis is but one of more Pearl Harbors to come. We desperately need a workforce equipped to deal with uncertain times ahead. Ohio can meet the challenge if we leverage the urgency of the current pandemic to focus on two things: Policy makers must acknowledge and boldly address the racial, geographic and economic disparity gaps that exist in the state. The human talent that is lost because of those gaps compromises Ohio’s economic stability and its future. These disparities are all the more evident as we see the pandemic taking a harder toll, both physically and economically, on communities that are high poverty, black and Latinx. Educational practitioners need to continue to aggressively pursue systemic changes to ensure that all children are reading proficiently by third grade, and that all eighth-graders are math proficient. These benchmarks are undeniable predictors of future academic success. If they are not met, our young people will not be prepared to compete, and all of Ohio will be the poorer. Educational attainment is critical to individuals’ social mobility. No one gets ahead without skills and a quality education. But educational attainment also is essential to the very survival of our communities, our state and our country. We must commit to ensuring that Ohioans have the talent essential to meet the next great challenge and those that are sure to follow. Tom Lasley is chief executive officer of Learn to Earn Dayton and the former dean of the University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences. Byron White is executive director of StrivePartnership and a vice president of KnowledgeWorks Foundation.
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Thomas J. Lasley
Chief Executive Officer, Learn To Earn Dayton
Byron P. White
KnowledgeWorks Vice President, Executive Director, StrivePartnership