IBJOpinion

GIGERICH: Education, economy are closely tied

Larry Gigerich
October 23, 2010
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Larry GigerichTen years into the 21st century, most people understand that a strong education system is vital to ensuring long-term economic development success. Where things become fuzzy is in defining what comprises a strong education system and, more important, the required outcomes of that system.

In the past, a successful education system was tied to graduating students from high school and preparing them to work in a manufacturing or agricultural business setting. In Indiana, many people who grew up with my parents and almost everyone who grew up with my grandparents graduated from high school (if they made it that far) and went straight into the work force. This is one of the key reasons higher education was not valued as highly in Indiana as it should have been. Now, 30 years later, because of the shift away from manufacturing and agriculture and toward emerging industries, Indiana must adjust its focus to ensure the future needs of companies are met. This will allow the state to continue capturing economic development projects over the long term.

So, how does Indiana need to evolve to meet the needs of the work force of the present and future? To begin, there must be an expectation by all Hoosiers that the minimum acceptable level of education achievement in the state be a two-year associate’s degree. While it can be argued that the ultimate goal for everyone in the state should be a four-year bachelor’s degree, there is a need for people with two-year degrees.

In addition, Indiana’s educational systems must look for ways to help Hoosiers retrain and “re-career” for jobs. Take the closing of the General Motors metal-stamping plant in Indianapolis; no longer will people be able to go from high school into a $30-per-hour job, and the people losing their jobs at this facility will not be able to find new manufacturing jobs paying $30 per hour in the Indianapolis area.

How do we get to where we need to be? It starts with the K-12 education system and a need for Hoosiers to recognize that all K-12 schools in Indiana (public and private) need to improve. There is a notion in our country that support for education is either public or private. At best this is sad; at worst it is offensive. Given the need to strengthen our place in the economy, we need all of our schools to devote more resources to the classroom, reward teacher performance and teach the curriculum necessary to prepare every student to continue their education beyond high school.

Moreover, all parents must have the freedom to choose what is best for their children, be it public, charter, alternative or private school. No one knows better what a child needs than the parent. Elected officials and government bureaucrats should not tell parents what is best for their children.

The communities, states and countries performing the best in educational achievement are typically those with the highest income levels and the best quality of life. To see the effects of lower educational achievement levels in our country, consider the earning potential of people who at a minimum do not possess an associate’s degree. Let there be no mistake: we live and work in a global economy. We must make sure that everyone is educated for a global economy. With a clear understanding of the key factors affecting educational achievement and a sound plan to improve educational attainment levels, Indiana can be successful in the 21st century and beyond.•

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Gigerich is managing director of Ginovus, an Indianapolis-based provider of national site selection, public-policy development, community comparative analysis and economic development incentive procurement and management.

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  • Education & Employing our graduates
    Mr. Gigerich is ignoring the flight of our graduates to states with jobs befitting their qualifications. Indiana is not attracting the businesses that will match the pay in other states.

    Our governor seems to believe Indiana is contained within a band starting 25 miles south of Indianapolis and extending north. He brings expansion and new businesses to that area while the southern area forgotten.

    A third of pupils are not capable of college work, but would do well in the trades. They should get real encouragement by school superintendents, instead of the grudgingly offered courses in an isolated corner of, with no public recognition of their accomplishments.

    Not everyone needs a broad college experience. A focused, concentrated suite of courses related to their primary employment interest should be formulated and offered to all who are interested. If they decide later, as they mature, to pursue a college degree, they will be quite capable of doing so.

    Administrators, and educators in general, live in an insular society and believe everyone wants to be like them. They forget it is the masses, who turn the wheels that make the economy run, also pay their salaries through TAXES on their earnings.

    Fit the education to the needs and capabilities of the students. College does not fit all. Everyone can't sit in an office, in front of a computer. Someone has to do the "hands-on" work of building homes, highways, repairing water systems, engines, etc..

    Until Indiana builds employment opportunities for degree-holders or those trained to do the physical work that support them, our biggest service will be exporting smart, hardworking twenty-somethings to other states.

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