RALEIGH — High-ranking state officials participated in a panel discussion during myFutureNC’s first annual State of Educational Attainment in North Carolina forum held in Raleigh on Feb. 6.
myFutureNC describes itself as a statewide nonprofit organization focused on educational attainment that is the result of cross-sector collaboration between North Carolina leaders in education, business, and government. The group’s stated mission is to prepare the state for the future by empowering individuals, strengthening communities, and ensuring our economic viability in a global economy.
Officials who gave remarks included Gov. Roy Cooper, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain), Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders, Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, and State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis.
The purpose of the event was to share updates on the progress being made toward myFutureNC’s goal of reaching two million degrees or industry-valued credentials by 2030. Among the topics of discussion were myFutureNC’s two endorsed priorities for the current legislative session.
Berger opened up his remarks by recognizing legislators in attendance and the work of myFutureNC.
“Education truly is the great equalizer in a merit-based society,” Berger said. “Obtaining a quality education unlocks a world of opportunities.”
Berger went on to say he is a first-generation college graduate, but that a “four-year degree isn’t for everyone and it isn’t necessary for success in today’s world economy. He added that it was imperative for the state’s economy that every student graduate with skills that match employer needs.
Moore also recognized House members that were in attendance before echoing some of Berger’s remarks related to the state’s economic outlook and how educational attainment is today is not the same as it was ten or 20 years ago and that not every child may need a four year degree.
“What do they need to be successful? They need a trained and ready workforce,” Moore said of the companies coming to the state. “That’s where education comes in.”
Moore said workforce was the top priority when leadership met with education committee chairs at the start of the long session.
“The work you all are doing with MyFutureNC is absolutely incredible,” said Moore. “It’s a key part and we certainly value it as a partner in these efforts together.”
Participants also included President & CEO of Duke Energy Lynn Good, President & CEO of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce Gary Salamido and MyFutureNC’s Board Chair John Fraley, and its CEO and President Cecilia Holden.
Holden described the loss of students in the “education leaky pipeline,” and said 28 out of 100 students is not enough in order to meet myFutureNC’s goal of 2 million degrees or industry-valued credentials by 2030. She added bringing adult learners back into the equation was going to be necessary.
Holden also laid out myFutureNC’s two policy priorities.
“We are pleased to endorse the Department of Public Instruction’s and State Board of Education’s call for career plans for every middle and high school student,” said Holden. She added they support individualized career plans for all of those students.
Holden said they were also endorsing the N.C. Department of Commerce’s First in Talent.
“We call for the creation of RAISE scholarships,” Holden said. “This stands for Reinforcement And Investment to Strengthen the Economy.”
Holden said the RAISE proposal will extend and expand the state’s already existing support for “no-cost pathways” to short-term industry valued credentials. She said the number of jobs requiring credentials or degrees will be increasing by hundreds of thousands in the coming years.
According to the Department of Commerce’s website, the First in Talent: Strategic Economic Development Plan for the State of North Carolina offers a road map and recommendations for economic development in North Carolina and serves as an important reference point for policymakers and economic developers in the state.
To address cost issues for degrees and credentialling, Holden said her organization is urging for the use of federal student aid known as FAFSA.
Earlier in February, state officials told the N.C. State Board of Education that credentialing had seen a big drop off during the 2020-21 school year, going from 241,000 credentials earned to down to 126,000, as a result of school closures instituted by the governor. The number rebounded in 2021-22, rising to 239,000.
Following her remarks, Holden introduced the state superintendent.
Truitt said she was committed to aligning her agency’s work with the workforce needs of the state. She also described the seven components of her department’s “Portrait of a Graduate” that are in place to make sure all students are equipped for college and career opportunities.
David echoed some of Truitt’s remarks, adding that “we must transform this education system to serve all of our students” with access to the teachers, resources and experiences they need to be successful.
Sanders, longtime House K-12 Committee member Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth), and Education/Higher Education Co-chair Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) participated in a brief panel discussion.
Sanders reiterated points about her agency’s First in Talent initiative and focusing on the “whole person” when it comes to education.
Lee talked about the workforce gaps in certain industries in his district such as real estate and a “bottleneck” in a lot of different industry areas. He also said remote work has put pressure on the healthcare system.
When asked about the cost barriers for attracting students back to higher education, Lambeth said recruitment was a key issue and that they need to “think outside the box” to meet enrollment and workforce needs.
“I think we need to rethink our education system,” Lee said about quick fixes to align education with workforce needs.
Lee elaborated by describing the lack of transition from high school to post-secondary work.
“Why are we not sliding down K-12 and Pre-K to 11 and looking at that twelfth grade… that’s not really the twelfth grade but the blur that comes through with workforce development,” Lee said. “A lot of students finish, or can finish, high school in three years.”
Lee said schools requiring certain credits force students to stay four years when they should be using that fourth year to start college or community college early.
The governor and Goode gave the closing remarks for the event.
Cooper recalled when myFutureNC started and how everyone in the room at the event had promised to reach the 2030 credentialing goal. He said that CEOs he has spoken with have three top issues in deciding to come to NC – “workforce, workforce, and workforce.”
“We have to look at it from cradle to career and scientifically proven investments in early childhood education and to “make sure we get the biggest bang for the buck there,” Cooper said in relation to surpassing the credentialing goal.
Cooper also urged people who have been “criticizing public schools” to go into the schools and “see what is happening.” He later said we have to look at the “whole child” while mentioning the Leandro funding case and that those investments are critical.
While discussing investments in education, the governor became agitated on the topic of tax cuts, stating “we need legislators and members of the business community to know we gotta stop with the cutting taxes for the wealthy!”
“We gotta stop it,” Cooper said. “The. Math. Doesn’t. Add. Up. We already are going to zero with the corporate tax and we’re already reducing personal income tax pretty significantly. And there’s talk about wanting to do more.
Cooper nearly yelled as he slammed the state’s tax policies which have continued to attract business and expand the state’s tax base.
“We don’t need it for economic growth and development! They are coming! They are coming in droves!” Cooper exclaimed. “Because of what we have here…a lot of because of the investments that were made for decades before we even got here!”
Goode, while closing out the event, began by saying it would be “hard to follow” the remarks given by the governor.
Watch the full forum on the myFutureNC YouTube channel: