As the economy remains sluggish and higher education costs increase, focus increasingly turns to tying higher education goals directly to a job availability.
Members of the Ohio House Higher Education Study Committee held a hearing Tuesday at Penta Career Center for area residents to testify about the importance of connecting high school and college programs to workforce needs.
Testimony was given by former Penta students, Superintendent Ronald Matter, an official from a school counselor association, and representatives of several area colleges.
Along with testimony were frequent compliments for Penta. State Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R., Clarksville), chairman of the study committee, started the hearing by calling the Perrysburg-area school the Pentagon of vocational schools, both a play on its name and stature. Rep. Tim Brown (R., Bowling Green) said walking through Penta can feel like a visit to a college campus.
The hearing was the third of six planned for the committee at educational sites statewide.
“We do our job better in Columbus when we hear from the people we represent,” said Mr. Brown, who is not on the study committee.
Much of the hearing was spent stressing the importance of career and vocational technology education and lamenting the stigma many feel is applied to programs that aren’t focused on getting a bachelor’s degree.
“Not every Ohioan is destined to earn a four-year degree,” Owens Community College President Mike Bower said, “but they still hold enormous value to the state’s work force and economic development goals.”
Panel members asked Mr. Matter about how to break stereotypes against noncollege preparatory programs, and he suggested an educational campaign that would point out to students, parents, and high school counselors the benefits of a career-focused education.
He said Penta students often find employment quickly, and there’s more demand for employees than Penta has graduates.
When Kathy Vasquez, University of Toledo’s associate vice-president of government relations, testified about programs that try to develop a pipeline from middle schools to health-care professions, she was asked if eighth grade was too early to begin focusing youth toward career paths.
Not at all, she said.
Mr. Bower gave his thoughts on dual-enrollment programs, developmental education, and work-force training. He asked that legislators support apprenticeship programs such as those Owens offers.
Shawn Grime, past president of the Ohio School Counselor Association, urged that Ohio mandate counselors for grades K-12. Mr. Grime said the American School Counselor Association recommends a student to counselor ratio of 250 to 1, but Ohio has a ratio of 480 students to each counselor, ranking it 39th in the country.
Often discussed was the high cost to attain advanced degrees, often without an immediate payoff. Higher education is becoming too expensive to simply explore, Mr. Matter said, and students need to enter college with an idea of what job will be tied to the degree they earn.