“Economic Preparedness” is Essential for Wyoming

Each year the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development produces a report called “Education at a Glance” that, among other things, includes an assessment about the relative educational performance of various countries.

It is from this report, and reports like it, that Americans hear that the U.S. is ranked “such-and-such” in the world in Math, Science or Reading, etc. That report is soon to be released again, and the results will once again reveal that the U.S. has a gap to bridge in skills development and education.

Last year, the available data showed that if one looks at traditional 4-year college graduation rates, the U.S. comes in 14th behind countries such as Slovakia, Poland, Ireland as well as the usual suspects like Japan and Great Britain. College graduation rates can be thought of in terms of how many students graduate after entering college, or, alternatively, as the number of citizens in the country between the ages of 25-34 that possess a college degree.

No matter how you look at it, we are not fairing comparatively well on the international stage.

What is the significance of this to us in this country, and by extension to us in Wyoming? Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy to OECD’s Secretary-General and also the Deputy Director for Education, remarked last year that “The increasing impact of advanced skills on people’s life chances — whether it is employment, earnings or social participation, makes it a priority to do better in providing all talented students, regardless of their background, with access to advanced education.”

The special point here is that the skills provided by post-secondary education “change a person’s stars” by positively impacting a person’s life chances.

It is well-established that educational attainment is one of the determinants that tracks with the advancement of a country, its society, and its economy. Countries with lower levels of educational attainment are less well able to compete in an increasingly global economy and are unable to take advantage of opportunity when good fortune comes along.

Increasingly, “educational attainment” in the modern world necessarily refers to the knowledge and skills that are taught, learned, and cultivated in post-secondary institutions (colleges and universities).

Competitive businesses understand that their continued existence depends upon employees that can both innovate and perfect new products and processes.

Although some of this ability is based in God-given talent, modern employees need the formalized college learning that fosters disciplined thinking and the habits-of-mind that encourage the ability to both learn and unlearn.

These habits-of-mind also work in concert with practical knowledge and physical dexterity in technical programs like those at Sheridan College.

Not only does our country need to think about how to increase meaningful and useful educational attainment, so does Wyoming.

Although economic development planning is essential for municipalities and counties, taking advantage of chance economic opportunity when it comes along is often even more critical.

Economic chance favors the educationally prepared. Focusing on ways that can position us to take advantage of opportunity through higher education will be a powerful tool in the continued vitality and economic strength of Wyoming’s communities.

Dr. Jon Connolly is the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Sheridan College.