Politics & Government

Report says ‘leaky pipeline’ of students in education system is costing NC skilled workers

North Carolina needs to get more students graduating from high school and college to have enough highly skilled workers to meet the demand in the state, according to a new report released Thursday.

The new report from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Demography and the John M. Belk Endowment found that 47 percent of North Carolinians ages 25 to 64 have a postsecondary degree or nondegree credentials. The Leaky Pipeline report says the state needs to get the percentage up to at least 60 percent by 2030 to meet the demands for a highly educated workforce.

North Carolina has been increasing the number of highly skilled adults through an influx of people moving in from other states. But Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography, said in an interview Thursday that the state can’t continue to rely on that trend, especially if it wants to help improve the economic and social mobility of people born in North Carolina.

“Being an attractive place for highly skilled individual is good for the state,” Tippett said. “But there’s a concern that there’s an education gap between people born in this state and people who come into the state.”

The report says that the state needs to act because by 2020, 67 percent of all jobs in North Carolina will require some education and training beyond high school. Just reaching the 60 percent mark means 672,000 more North Carolina adults need to obtain a postsecondary degree or nondegree credential.

A major issue, the report found, is that there are vast disparities across the state in terms of graduation rates and educational attainment.

Of North Carolina’s 100 counties, the report found that only Orange, Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg counties had populations where at least half the adults have an associate’s degree or higher. But the report also noted that the region that includes the Triangle has the state’s highest high school graduation rate gap between white students and black and Hispanic students.

The report noted the significant improvement in the state’s high school graduation rate, which has risen from 68 percent to 87 percent over the past decade. But only 16 percent of North Carolina’s public high school freshmen in 2008 went on to graduate in four years, immediately enroll in a UNC system school or North Carolina community college and graduate on time.

“We’re trying to help them make the transition from childhood to adulthood,” Tippett said.

Tippett said several low-cost options exist for helping high school students make the transition to college. She pointed to steps such as having counselors work with students and help them fill out financial aid forms for college.

With the student population becoming increasingly diverse, Tippett said there’s a significant opportunity for increasing the percentage of people going to college. She said the growth in the Hispanic population in particular means a chance to increase the number of first-generation college students.

“There is no single driver of overall gaps, but these gaps exist in all phases of the education pipeline,” Tippett said. “If there’s one area that can be improved, it is the transition from high school to postsecondary education.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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