On the path to the American dream today, there is no detour around
postsecondary education. Employers increasingly require employees to
have higher-level skills, and those without at least some education
beyond high school are at a disadvantage in the job market. Meanwhile,
the socioeconomic makeup of our citizenry is continuing to evolve here
in Massachusetts, and employers need to rely more than ever on workers
who all too often fail to complete their education.
American businesses are competing on a global level as never before. Low-skill jobs have largely moved overseas and available jobs are becoming more technology-dependent. Sixty percent of U.S. jobs are held by workers with at least some postsecondary education or training, and 63 percent of the 18.9 million jobs that will be created by 2014 will require some postsecondary education. Here in the Boston area, manufacturing and construction jobs are on the decline, while the information and financial sectors are growing slowly, and the areas of education and health are creating new jobs at a rapid pace. It is impossible to ignore that growth is in the skilled areas.
For our economy to thrive, there has to be retraining of displaced workers and basic education for those attempting to enter the workforce. We must address the needs of increasing numbers of non-native speakers of English, recent immigrants to the United States and older adults, as well as those of recent high school graduates. In 2009, the largest number ever of high school students will graduate. Community colleges want to provide them with the best possible education.
If Boston-area businesses are unable to find sufficient numbers of skilled workers, they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. In addition, area taxpayers may find themselves supporting services for more low-wage workers and unemployed citizens who are unable to afford services such as health care.
It is more critical than ever to educate the American workforce to a higher level, and that includes workers right here in Boston. Roxbury Community College, like community colleges across the country, provides access to an affordable, quality education to any students interested in improving their knowledge and skills, including many whose options are otherwise limited. We are proud of our record, but we all — our college, our community and our policymakers — must do a better job of ensuring that the students who walk through the doors of community colleges walk out having accomplished their goals, ready to contribute their best to the economic and civic life of the region.
Providing access is not enough if students lack adequate support to persist and succeed. We must be partners with students in their own success. That is why we have embarked on a number of efforts designed to help students achieve their goals.
Roxbury Community College is one of more than 80 institutions in 15 states, including four in Massachusetts, participating in “Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count,” a national initiative to help more community college students succeed. As a part of this effort, we are redesigning and improving integration of students’ first-semester math, English and study skills experiences, and working to connect advising processes more closely to the classroom for students who arrive under-prepared for college.
We are currently in the first, fact-finding year of a five-year initiative with Achieving the Dream, and we expect these changes to have a positive effect on the lives of our students. But ultimately, the impact extends far beyond the fortunes of individual students. The future prosperity of our region, our state and, indeed, our nation is at stake. Data show that increasing a state’s or a country’s average level of schooling by one year results in economic growth ranging between 5 percent and 15 percent. In an environment of international competition, our efforts to effect genuine change are crucial.
At Roxbury Community College, we have already made a good start. Through Achieving the Dream, we are implementing new strategies to improve student achievement, to enhance our ability to determine what works for students, and to make critical decisions based on what the evidence shows. We urge members of our community, citizens of the Commonwealth and policymakers at all levels to support student success initiatives. Whether it is through improvements in the K-12 arena, with adult basic education, or at the community colleges, which represent a crucial turning point in many lives, ensuring effective, quality education for all who desire it is the best way we can guarantee the future vibrancy of our economy and our society. We all benefit when students achieve their dreams.