published Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Haslam’s Drive to 55 to connect educators, employers (with video)

Gov. Haslam hopes to raise Tennessee's higher education rate
During a Times Free Press editorial board meeting, Gov. Bill Haslam, R-Tenn., and Randy Boyd, Tennessee's special adviser for higher education, spoke about the state's new "Drive to 55" initiative. Officials are hoping to encourage more than 490,000 Tennesseans to get a certificate, or a 2- or 4-year diploma, by 2025 in hopes that the state-wide workforce can meet the necessary demand for skilled workers.
 Gov. Bill Haslam addresses education and jobs during a meeting with Times Free Press staffers.
Gov. Bill Haslam addresses education and jobs during a meeting with Times Free Press staffers.
Photo by Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PULL-OUT INFO

• Of 60,000 Tennessee H.S. graduates each year, 20,000 do not attend college

ª 940,000 adults in Tennessee did not finish their higher education program

Hamilton County’s largest postsecondary job needs, number of openings and salary:

Therapeutic services (870 openings, $48,000)

Teaching/training (365, $42,000)

Family and community services (160, $48,000)

General management (145, $110,000)

Programming and software development (90, $66,000)

Hamilton County’s best-paying job income fields:

General management (145, $110,000)

Business information management (25, $93,000)

Engineering and technology (75, $87,000)

Legal services (45, $74,000)

Support services (30, $73,000)

Source: DriveTo55.org

As Gov. Bill Haslam unveils specific details of his Drive to 55 program across the state, Hamilton County and Tennessee at large are getting a glimpse at what could be the next 12 years of the education system and job market.

Tennessee, he said, needs at least 55 percent of its citizens to have at least a two-year degree or technical certificate by 2025 to keep pace with rival states in the job market.

“If we don’t get there, there’s a pretty direct correlation between unemployment and not achieving that,” Haslam said during a meeting Friday with Times Free Press reporters and editors.

That 55 percent goal — 494,000 Tennesseans — is out of reach even if every high school student in the state graduates from college between now and 2025, he said. If that miracle happened, another 254,000 working adults with incomplete degree programs still would have to finish to make the grade.

“We have to start reaching out to a lot of people that we don’t traditionally think of in regards to post-secondary education students,” Haslam said. “That means a lot of adult learners, a lot of 37-year-old moms with two kids.”

The governor has crisscrossed the state with Randy Boyd, his special adviser on higher education, to promote Drive to 55.

The need to boost dramatically the number of people with post-secondary degrees and/or certificates stems from three fundamentals: People want good jobs, employers want good employees and the economic disparities between those with degrees and those without are widening, he said.

According to DriveTo55.org, about 940,000 of Tennessee’s working adults stopped their higher education without a degree or certificate. A primary reason is the disconnect between what Tennesseans want to study and the requirements of local employers.

“Kids graduate from college and then say, ‘Wait a minute, there’s nobody that needs to hire me.’ At the same time, we have businesses complaining that we have a skills gap,” Boyd said. “Trying to align these things is critical.”

The Drive to 55 website includes a Career Path Projections resource that projects business skills demands, combined with income, in 13 regions of Tennessee.

According to the website, Hamilton County will be most in need of therapeutic services, with registered nurses being the most likely opening. The boom is an obvious byproduct of Chattanooga’s significant health care community. Teachers and trainers are second, followed by family and community services workers.

“We’re going to help us and our students figure out where they’re going to get the best investment in our education,” Boyd said.

But the question remains how many “working adults” will be able to find the time, finances or motivation to return to school. Online classes are a prospect, as well as more-flexible class hours at community colleges.

Boyd said the next step for the Drive to 55 campaign is establishing a “scoreboard” that tracks individual majors and documents the percentages of students who graduate from them, their likelihood of finding a job afterward and what that job may pay.

“If we’re producing degrees in the wrong field, we’re wasting our time,” Boyd said. “We need to make sure educators and employers are talking.”

Contact Jeff LaFave at 423-757-6592 or jlafave@timesfreepress.com

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