The Edmond Sun

October 28, 2011

OUR VIEW: Brain gain plan needs to start earlier

The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Gov. Mary Fallin came to the University of Central Oklahoma campus along with State Superintendent Janet Barresi in September and touted her new “brain gain” initiative. The goal of the new program is to increase the 30,500 college degrees conferred annually now by 67 percent to 50,900 degrees annually by the year 2023.

To achieve that goal, the pair promised the state would redesign remedial and developmental education, work toward improving Oklahoma’s adult degree completion program, standardize with national norms the certificates awarded through CareerTech and revise the Brain Gain Performance Funding program.

All of these items probably deserve significant attention and time to see that they’re accomplished. They all make sense in helping reform our state’s public education component, especially in the sense of economic development.

But there’s one small problem with the stated goal. If only a certain percentage of jobs in Oklahoma require a college degree, then why should we exponentially increase the number of degree holders for jobs that are not presently here? Why should more Oklahomans go into student loan debt for very little return unless they leave the state? Simply adding more degree holders to the state’s population does not necessarily translate into more high-paying jobs rushing to move here.

You can make the chicken and the egg argument if you want to, but the math just doesn’t add up when looking at Oklahoma’s high school population numbers. Oklahoma is doing its students a great disservice by only pushing the idea of going to college to every student in our public education system. There are many students who would benefit just as much from CareerTech training and be employable with less time and less debt than trying to somehow reach a magic number of degree holders in the state.

What we’re really talking about is a population issue as much as an education issue. And it’s not reasonable to mistake degreed employees for what really could be certified employees.

If the end goal of 50,000 degree holders per year is what really matters, then educational reform needs to happen at a much earlier stage in a student’s development than waiting to worry about remedial efforts at the high school level. It’s true that last year’s legislative session saw a couple of reforms aimed at the earlier grades and we’ll need to see where those reforms take our state’s educational performance. But in the meantime, we’d like to see a more advanced brain gain proposal made for early childhood and elementary education to ensure as many students as possible in our state have the chances they need for success.