Friday, January 6, 2017
By The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: January 5, 2017
GOV. Mary Fallin is setting the bar mighty high in her effort to fit more Oklahomans for the workforce of tomorrow. For that she should be applauded.
An initiative called Launch Oklahoma has a goal in the next eight years of producing nearly 600,000 more workers who are armed with a college degree, certificate or other quality credential. That's 75,000 more workers per year, on average, which is truly shooting for the moon.
But such an undertaking is badly needed in Oklahoma, where nearly 4 percent of adults ages 25 to 64 have less than a ninth-grade education and 8 percent of the 25-to-64 population has no high school diploma. Overall, only about 40 percent of the adult population has post-secondary education and training — under Launch Oklahoma, that would rise to 70 percent by 2025.
In making her announcement last week, Fallin noted that according to projections, 77 percent of Oklahoma's new labor market in 2025 will require more than a high school diploma. Seventy-seven percent!
Finding ways to fill the state's workforce pipeline with more Oklahomans is something that has been talked about for a long time, particularly in the past few years, and has been the focus of a continuing series of stories by The Oklahoman. During a forum hosted by the newspaper in fall 2015, Natalie Shirley, the state's secretary of education and workforce development, noted that raising expectations was a key part of preparing students to fill these future jobs.
“The central problem here is that we're not expecting enough of our institutions, we're not expecting enough of our government and we're not expecting enough of ourselves,” Shirley said. “We're not going to get better if we don't start expecting it.”
Shirley said then that it's important to begin at an early age, impressing on students the need to do more than complete high school. That's certainly true. Yet this new initiative, developed from recommendations by the Oklahoma Works Leadership team that Shirley leads, wisely targets adults who began post-secondary education but didn't finish.
Tony Hutchison, who focuses on strategic planning and workforce and economic development for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, says roughly 70,000 Oklahomans have completed 70-80 hours of college credit but don't have a degree. Some, he said, could be awarded an associate degree immediately or with one more class.
Shirley puts it this way: “We've got to pick up the adults.” Launch Oklahoma is designed to help do that. It expands on higher education's Complete College America initiative, begun in 2011 with a goal of increasing the number of career credentials and college degrees in Oklahoma by 67 percent over 12 years.
As we have said many times, Oklahoma certainly needs more men and women who have earned four-year degrees — but it's also true that two-year degrees and CareerTech certificates would have filled many of the 60,000 job openings the state had on the books in fall 2016.
Launch Oklahoma is an ambitious effort, to be sure, but the state can't afford to stand pat. With any luck, and with adequate funding, this program will inspire thousands of Oklahomans to resume their education where they left off, and set them up for better jobs and brighter futures.