Education is the key to a better job, better wages, and a better future.
The economies of today and tomorrow require a workforce with some form of post-secondary education, including certification and credentialing. Since the economic recovery began in January 2010, approximately 11.6 million jobs have been created. Of those jobs, greater than 11.5 million required a post-secondary degree or credential. Such staggering figures force us to conclude that a high school education remains necessary, but is no longer sufficient to meet the demands of today’s labor market.
At the recent Higher RI Summit, which brought together national, regional, and local leaders to focus on post-secondary education in Rhode Island, and in which I actively participated, Gov. Raimondo in her opening remarks communicated the following: “By 2025, I want 70 percent of Rhode Islanders (ages 25 – 65) to have a degree or credential past high school. Today’s economy gives us no other option. You need that level of education and training to succeed. I am laser-focused on creating jobs and opportunity in Rhode Island, but we can’t do that without a solid post-secondary foundation. Today’s summit is focused on improving equity, affordability and innovation so that we can set every Rhode Islander up for success.”
And, the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE), of which I’m a member, established a Commission on Higher Education and Employability. The Commission, which is chaired by Gov. Raimondo, has as its main charter to “… increase the life and career readiness of college and university graduates …”
It is clear that many policy leaders are taking this issue seriously. Recently the R.I. Senate held its 6th Annual Senate Education Summit. The summit, led by Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Hanna Gallo and Vice-Chairman Harold Metts, focused on student post-secondary preparedness. And thankfully, work has begun, as exampled by the partnership between CCRI and Central Falls High School, aggressively working to better prepare students for college-level math.
But this is not enough.
In the short term, we must scale up pilot programs that we know work, like the partnership between CCRI and Central Falls. We also need to continue to support our early college programs, which are giving thousands of high school students the opportunity to try out a college class and earn college credits, for free, while still in high school – a terrific way for students to demonstrate they are college ready. In the long term, we need an even more robust pre-K-12 strategy that ensures all Rhode Island students are adequately prepared to succeed in post-secondary education/training. This will certainly lay the needed groundwork for Rhode Islanders to attain a better job, better wages and a better future.
We know we must do more. The most recent facts show that approximately 66 percent, or two thirds, of the incoming CCRI freshman class was required to take one, two or even three remedial/developmental education courses. From my perspective, we are letting down these students, their families and Rhode Island, and we must do more.
Policymakers are engaged and committed to addressing this issue. Now we must agree on a long-term strategy to ameliorating this 66 percent deficiency. This will require a multi-year commitment to systemic reform, and we must have the courage and conviction to stay the course. Anything less is unacceptable.
Building upon the momentum resulting from the Higher RI Summit, RI Senate 6th Educational Summit, the work of CCRI, and the NEBHE Commission, I plan to convene a group of leaders in education: pre-K-12, higher education, and education-focused foundations (local and national), to name a few, to bring a laser-focused spotlight on this issue and work to assess the way forward to achieving the strategy. We owe it to the 66 percent of the students, their teachers, their families and the entire state of Rhode Island. The time to act is now.
The author is a Democrat representing District 12 (Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) in the Rhode Island State Senate, where he is a member of the Senate Committee on Education.