Within six years, two-thirds of all new jobs will require postsecondary education.
That was one of several figures Rod Risley, the executive director of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, cited during a college completion symposium on Friday at Hagerstown Community College’s Kepler Theater.
Risley said college readiness and completion are vital issues as the United States tries to keep up. “The very future of our country is at stake,” he said.
At one time, he said, the U.S. was in the top tier among industrialized nations in educational achievement, but has dropped substantially in some measures.
In math skills, for example, the U.S. is 25th out of 34 top nations. As the economy becomes increasingly global, “we’re in a real mess here,” Risley said.
Andrew Howard Nichols, the director of research and policy analysis for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, talked about three ways the commission is trying to improve the state’s higher education attainment.
One is redesigning courses to be more uniform and incorporate new technology and new ways to accommodate students. Nichols said about 80 courses, including 15 on developmental mathematics, have been redesigned across Maryland.
The second is the “reverse transfer,” in which community college credits can be awarded retroactively, allowing a student to use four-year college credits to complete an associate’s degree.
The third is a program called “near completers.” The state is trying to reach students who dropped out of school just short of getting a bachelor’s degree and looking for ways to help those students finish.
MHEC’s work dovetails with the state’s college completion goal — that 55 percent of Marylanders have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or a certificate by 2025.
Nichols said the state is awarding about 42,000 degrees a year and needs to increase that number by about 20,000 to reach the goal.
A college degree generally means a higher-paying job, but also correlates with better personal awareness, health, child rearing, consumer choices and civic engagement, Nichols said.
The symposium, titled “Learn How to Overcome Obstacles When Pursuing a Degree,” was held by the Pi Theta Chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.
Other panelists were HCC President Guy Altieri and Brien J. Poffenberger, the president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.