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October 24, 2013

250,000 graduates or bust?

Tech system leader gives local educators, students a ‘reality check’

Students at traditional four-year college programs are now taking eight years to complete their studies, according to Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Ronald Jackson.

And that won’t cut it in a global market, Jackson said.

Jackson, who works closely with Gov. Nathan Deal on education-related issues, spoke to local education leaders Wednesday afternoon at the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy.

He brought with him a “reality check” for students and educators. Reality is, Jackson said, students in China are faster prepared for the “global workforce” than their American counterparts.

Jackson visited Shandong, the second most populated province in China, when Deal and state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, opened trade agreements with the city in September.

Because of technological advances such as the Internet, Georgia is “no longer competing with South Carolina or Tennessee or Alabama or Florida,” Jackson said. “We are all competing on a global level.”

Jackson said Deal charged him and other state educators to spur 250,000 college graduates by 2020 to make the state more competitive with the rest of the world. That’s perhaps a tough task, Jackson said, since 1.2 million Georgians don’t even have a high school diploma.

“Companies that want to come here will see that statistic and mark Georgia off the list,” Jackson said. “When our students are more successful and graduate on time, Georgia’s workforce will be better prepared.”

To create a better workforce, Jackson said educators in high school and college need to be tougher on students.

“Sometimes we give students too many choices, sometimes students make bad choices, sometimes they change their majors three or four times because they are looking for what it is they want to do,” he said.

And while Jackson said he welcomes students “exploring” different fields, there has to be a limit.

“We cannot afford for students to explore for eight years,” he said, “when we are competing against that student in China who is completing their master’s degree in four years.”

Jackson also said successful programs — such as several college programs in the medical field — are stricter with class schedules and should act as a example for all college programs to follow.

“You don’t get a lot of choice (in those programs),” he said. “And you know what? Students finish on time more than they do in other programs. Choice is sometimes the enemy of successful completion.”

Jackson said educators need to realize “the stakes” are high.

“It is imperative for America and Georgia and your community to keep pace (with the rest of the world) and understand the importance of education and workforce preparedness,” he said.

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