Degree goal noble, but must be realistic

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel 

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia’s public institutions of higher learning handed out approximately 18,000 degrees last year. Ten years from now, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Community and Technical College System hope that number will more than double, to 40,000.

Bear in mind that 18,000 was a record number for West Virginia. But officials say “increasing the number of high-quality certificates, associate degrees and bachelor degrees earned and awarded each year to 40,000,” will leave the state “more strongly positioned to meet projected economic and workforce demands.”

Maybe. It would almost certainly increase the amount of revenue flowing from lending agencies, through students and into educational coffers. It might also tempt colleges to make it even easier than it already is to make it to graduation.

Those touting the 40,000-degrees goal say they will reach it by “strengthening the student credit transfer process, encouraging students to take at least 30 credit hours each year to graduate on time and, among other initiatives, improving developmental education to help more incoming students succeed.”

There are also college-access initiatives such as Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs or the development of the College Foundation of West Virginia.

But if education officials are serious about meeting economic and workforce demands, they would do well to consult those who will be hiring that workforce and driving that economy. Students must be encouraged to pursue educations that prepare them for the real world, and to be productive members of the workforce. They must learn critical thinking, harsh lessons and that the workplace will likely not be a “safe space.” They must learn the value of focus and hard work; organization and professionalism; and, sometimes, breaking a sweat.

And they must understand how long the debt they may incur during their college years might haunt them.

While they are at it, higher education officials should be doing their best to make West Virginia the kind of place where students want to live and put those degrees to use.

Handing out 40,000 pieces of paper during graduation ceremonies in 2025 is one thing; producing 40,000 graduates who are prepared for the reality of becoming vital parts of our Mountain State economy is quite another.

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