Throughout my career in public service, I have focused unwaveringly on increasing economic prosperity in West Virginia through job creation and growth. As your Governor, I have been proud to announce the creation of thousands of new jobs in our Great State - and I promise more of these announcements to come. West Virginia is home to a world-class workforce comprised of hard-working, talented individuals who take great pride in earning an honest wage and providing for their families.
However, as a state, we are lagging behind in the number of adults completing a college education. To remain economically viable and create future prosperity, we must ensure that our workforce is trained to compete in today’s global economy. In fact, labor economists from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimate that within the next six years, 49 percent of all jobs in West Virginia will require advanced training and education. Currently, only 26 percent of West Virginians have earned an associate’s degree or higher.
To bridge that gap, we need more individuals to complete college. To address this issue, a statewide task force, led by the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council for Community and Technical College Education, released a report with detailed recommendations for increasing college completion rates. The report, “Educating West Virginia is Everyone’s Business: Report from the West Virginia College Completion Task Force,” outlines the economic need for additional college graduates and provides strategies for helping more West Virginians complete a college education. As a result, we will enact a plan that makes college entrance and graduation a visible and tangible priority across West Virginia. That means not only encouraging our young people to pursue education and training beyond high school, but also helping adults return to college to earn a degree.
From financial aid application assistance to more concise degree plans, West Virginia is working to change the tide. Colleges and universities are working to refine curriculum to reduce the number of credit hours required to graduate while maintaining a rigorous plan of academic and skills-based study. They are also improving the quality and efficiency of developmental education to make sure our students are prepared academically for college-level coursework. To advance these priorities, I and other state policymakers are considering plans to link higher education funding to college completion outcomes. Given that more than 36 percent of West Virginia’s college students are 25 or older, and most students work at least part-time while attending college, West Virginia’s public higher education institutions are offering more courses on timeframes designed to fit adults’ schedules.
There has never been a better time to pursue higher education; nor has it ever been so important. By increasing the skills and knowledge of our state’s citizens, we will facilitate a dynamic, thriving economy and advance the quality of life for all West Virginians.