North Carolina has always shown pride in our institutions of higher learning, and today graduate education is an important economic driver for our state. Those who earn advanced degrees help lead the workforce of the future, fuel innovation and new businesses and contribute to revenue for the state.
On Wednesday, representatives of the N.C. Council of Graduate Schools, an organization of 22 North Carolina colleges and universities with graduate programs, will showcase the work of graduate students at the General Assembly. Last year, three N.C. State students presented their research on issues relevant today: turning paper mill waste into valuable byproducts; examining the efficacy of biosimilar drugs, a less expensive alternative to name-brand drugs; and exploring models of how marine larvae are dispersed in ocean waters.
The research that we share with our state policymakers helps tell the story of why graduate education is so important to North Carolina and why state support for education is critical. The research projects we presented last year have direct bearing on policies and laws that affect our environment, the well-being of our citizens and the quality of our marine fisheries.
Multiply the effect of these projects by the state’s graduate student population of 50,000, and you begin to see how graduate education adds value to our universities, our state and our world.
In North Carolina, our job market is changing, requiring a higher level of skills and knowledge. Undergraduate education helps maintain a stable economy by providing the future workforce with foundational knowledge and workplace skills. Yet today’s research and development economy requires the expertise that comes with an advanced degree.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2012 and 2022, employers will add nearly 2.4 million jobs that require a master’s or doctoral degree. To meet the demand, we will have to increase the number of people earning these advanced degrees. A recent study by U.S. News and World Report found there are many more jobs available in STEM fields than there are workers educated to fill those positions.
The need for workers with advanced degrees will be especially critical in North Carolina, where research and development drive economies in areas like Research Triangle Park, the Triad and other developing centers of innovation across the state.
The innovations developed in our university labs – fueled by our graduate students – help create jobs and new businesses for the state. Graduate research produces inventions, patents and licenses that attract established businesses and create new ones. In fact, the institutions within the University of North Carolina system alone were responsible for generating $1.4 billion in new businesses in 2012-13.
The new businesses created through the work of graduate education add revenue to the state’s coffers. And professionals with advanced degrees typically pay higher state taxes. Among our graduate and professional students, 79 percent are North Carolina residents, and most are expected to remain in North Carolina after completing their degrees.
Our graduate schools are committed to providing even more opportunities for master’s and doctoral students to call North Carolina home and contribute to the state’s economic development. That’s why we need continued state support for the UNC system to provide the faculty and resources necessary to recruit the next generation of graduate student innovators.
Dr. Maureen Grasso is dean of N.C. State University’s Graduate School and 2016 president of the N.C. Council of Graduate Schools.