CLEVELAND, Ohio – The future of public higher education depends on students arriving prepared for college-level courses and with an idea of what their future could be, according to the presidents of three Northeast Ohio schools.
But many K-12 schools aren’t doing their job, especially in suggesting career paths for low-income, first-generation students, the presidents said Friday at a City Club of Cleveland forum.
“They either don’t have an idea [of a career] or the wrong idea,” said Cleveland State University President Ronald Berkman. “They are really less equipped to understand career and trajectory. We have to build it early in their education. From the day they walk into orientation, we have to talk to them about careers.”
Cuyahoga Community College President Alex Johnson said schools aren’t preparing students to go to college to become scientists, engineers or mathematicians – fields that provide the skills to find jobs.
‘”I have to say this, I think we have lost a generation of individuals in that area,” he said. “We need public schools to challenge children to meet those standards.”
University of Akron President Matthew Wilson joined his fellow presidents in talking about the need to continue offering a strong liberal arts foundation because that is as important as learning a skill.
“You can’t discount the importance of history and what is fact and what is not,” he said. “You have to teach students to analyze.”
The presidents also discussed the need to prepare students for careers and jobs that can change several times during their lifetime.
And while wishing more federal and state funding was provided for higher education, they also defended the cost of college.
People who earn four-year degrees may leave school with average debt of $30,000, but research has shown that they will earn $1 million more during their lifetime and live seven years longer than a high school graduate, Wilson said.
But many first-generation students have no clue as to what college is about, the presidents said.
Many Cleveland youths have never been on a college campus and they need to visit and see others like them attending classes, Berkman said.
“We have not successfully made the importance of public education a national priority, like health care,” Berkman said.
A living wage for a family of four is $30 an hour, Johnson said. The average wage in Cuyahoga County is $19 an hour, he said.
“We need to work more closely with public education and students to raise their skills so they are not mired in developmental courses when they come to college,” he said.