Students face a new minimum level of education and training if they hope to find their way into middle-class lives, Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday.
Speaking at the National Governors Association’s America Works summit in Oklahoma City, Fallin said policymakers and education leaders must work harder to make sure employees have the skills to compete, as more jobs require some level of training beyond high school.
“America cannot expect to lead the world in innovation and job creation if we cannot keep up academically,” Fallin said.
Fallin, who serves as chairman of the association, hosted the summit to discuss workforce development. The summit included education officials, industry leaders and governors from several states.
Fallin has been a supporter of Common Core, a rigorous set of academic standards the association developed in an effort to create consistent learning goals across states. The standards have been adopted by 45 states, including Oklahoma.
But support for the standards in Oklahoma is flagging. The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted this month to repeal the standards.
At a press conference Friday with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Fallin said academic rigor at the K-12 level is critical, no matter what tools the state uses to arrive at that goal. Each state will need to decide for itself whether to adopt the Common Core standards, she said.
“In the meantime, we can all agree that we think academic rigor is important,” she said.
During an Oklahoma-only session of the summit Wednesday, Fallin said Oklahoma is heading rapidly toward a scenario where its residents aren’t qualified to fill the jobs available in the state.
Fallin called on education leaders at all levels to work together to head off that situation. Public schools must ensure their students are prepared to go to college without needing to take remedial courses, she said, and colleges and CareerTech centers must provide effective, affordable degree and certificate programs aligned with industry needs.
The summit was part of the association’s yearlong effort to improve postsecondary education and workforce training.
The skills mismatch that is present in Oklahoma is also affecting the workforce nationwide, according to a report released by the association.
According to the report, just 36 percent of Americans 25 and older held at least an associate degree in 2010. By 2030, 52 percent of all new jobs will require at least an associate degree, meaning companies will have a difficult time finding qualified workers.
Fallin has made addressing the lack of qualified workers Oklahoma generates a major priority. In 2011, she announced an initiative to boost by 67 percent the number of college degrees and postsecondary certificates awarded in the state by 2023.
The goal comes as a part of Complete College America, a national initiative that seeks to boost the number of college graduates in the country. That total would include all degrees awarded at public and private universities, as well as certificates awarded at CareerTech centers.
At Friday’s news conference, Nixon called closing the skills gap “some of the very serious blocking and tackling of economic development.”
Governors are uniquely placed to address the issue because they work directly with local school districts, colleges and vocational schools, Nixon said. Regardless of their feelings on state and national standards, governors generally agree on the importance of a clear, coherent message on the importance of education.
“Education is the best economic development tool there is,” Nixon said. “A trained workforce is a strong workforce at all levels.”