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Re-defining the way we look at college

Published 11:00pm Friday, July 12, 2013

College. One single word brings to mind a flurry of memories.

When asked to describe college in a few words, a group of local high schoolers said this: more homework, parties, no parents, freedom and dorms. To be fair, each of these responses is more or less true, but ask an economist to describe college, and his response is likely to include one important word: opportunity. This we know to be true.

Not only does college provide a wealth of memories and new experiences, the degree it provides opens doors to a host of career opportunities. But what do we mean by college? And what exactly are those opportunities that postsecondary education creates for us?

A recent study by the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce reported some predictable findings: by the year 2020, 62 percent of jobs in Alabama will require postsecondary education. Yes, this is true. Our workforce is evolving, and the job market continues to demand higher-skilled labor.

Next question: Where are these jobs? While jobs requiring an associates degree or postsecondary certificate include a number of occupations, there is a growing demand for individuals with these qualifications in STEM jobs, especially in the Birmingham area. A recent Brookings Institute study found that 21 percent of all jobs in the Birmingham area are STEM jobs, and 61 percent of those require an associate degree or less. The average salary for those in STEM jobs with an associate degree or less: $48,034. Again, not bad.

So next time we talk with our local high schoolers, let’s ask them to describe postsecondary education. Their responses will likely be the same as before. And what about the economist? Again, I believe the response will be the same: opportunity.

Bo Morris is a leadership fellow with the Southern Education Foundation and intern with Alabama Possible-Alabama Poverty Project. He is from Jacksonville, Ala., and recently graduated from Samford University, where he studied political science and journalism. Email: bomorris2@gmail.com.

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