Entering this year’s state budget process, concerns were that the high financial impact of the pandemic would impose strict limits on spending and restrict the ability of heads of state to make the necessary investments in critical areas. , particularly higher education, to successfully position Ohio for post-pandemic recovery.
Fortunately, our next state budget contains the right resources in the right places, along with innovative new approaches to help move Ohio forward.
Second Chance Vouchers Pilot Project: Many college students start on their way to a college or university degree but, for some reason, are unable to complete them. It is estimated that more than 1.2 million Ohioans are in this situation. A new effort of $ 3 million initiated by the state budget is aimed specifically at helping these students return to college to complete their programs. The $ 2,000 support for up to 1,500 students is expected to help adults return to school or improve their careers, as well as those whose careers have been derailed by the pandemic who are now looking to improve their skills and education options. employment.
With Ohio facing a shortage of skilled workers, helping these 1.2 million Ohioans complete their education and take on jobs in demand is good for them and for our state. If only 5% of those students graduate in each of the next six years, our state would meet one-third of its goal of new college degrees and be much closer to meeting our workforce needs.
More Nursing Degree Options: With this budget, Ohio will join the growing list of states proactively addressing nursing shortages by activating their state’s community colleges to help address issues. by our hospitals and healthcare providers when faced with prolonged shortages of nurses to meet workforce needs.
In addition to the decade-long shortage of nurses, more than a million nurses are expected to retire across the country over the next decade, which means the need for nurses is only growing. increase. With the increasing complexity of healthcare and standards of care, more and more hospitals want nurses with bachelor’s degrees. Community colleges are already a primary source of health professionals in Ohio and have the instructors, facilities, and equipment to award bachelor’s degrees in nursing. Plus, the lower cost of community college tuition means more students can afford to graduate. This change is a win-win for healthcare providers, patients and our state by providing a path to increase the number of highly skilled nurses in Ohio.
Support for short-term certificates: The pandemic has accelerated a fundamental shift in higher education preferences for many Ohio students who choose short-term training for certificates and industry credentials in order to to help them quickly get the training they need for jobs in demand, especially in technology, healthcare and logistics. As community colleges have adapted to this need, public financial support for the educational goals of these students has been scarce so far. The state budget aligns well with this contemporary development by including certified students and degrees in existing state financial aid programs.
Helping Ohioans and Ohio employers navigate the post-pandemic workforce landscape will require intentional attention from policy makers, higher education leaders, employers and advocates for students and workers. Ohio’s 23 community colleges are ready to work together to meet the challenge. Over the past decade, we have adopted holistic student-focused reforms to improve the academic, professional and financial success of our students. Our colleges didn’t do it because it was financially beneficial (in fact, many of these reforms come with significant upfront costs), but because we know it is imperative to improve the way we serve our people. most vulnerable students.
Community colleges are the primary pathways to higher education for 200,000 Ohioans each year, many of whom work multiple jobs or balance a full-time job with family and university responsibilities. They have courage and determination, and Ohio needs them to be successful. New investments in this year’s state budget will strengthen our ability to both educate our students in the classroom and find ways to help them outside of the classroom. For those 1.2 million Ohioans who dropped out of school, for whatever reason, there has never been a better time to return. We are fortunate to have heads of state who understand the big picture when it comes to the workforce and how to invest in the future of Ohioans and our state.
Jack Hershey is President and CEO of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.