North Carolina needs an educated workforce like never before.
Traditional industries that once employed hundreds of thousands with just a high school diploma -- or less -- have shed countless jobs in recent decades. Textile mills sit empty; furniture factories are shuttered; tobacco processing plants closed.
A new economy is emerging in North Carolina, one that demands workers with skills tailored for the 21st century, not ones based on the needs of the 20th.
In this new economy, workers with only a high school diploma face long odds at achieving the American dream; high school dropouts don't stand any chance. This knowledge-based economy is defined by growing numbers of jobs in the fields of science, healthcare, technology, and engineering. Even jobs for which high school was enough now often demand more advanced training.
Consider this: During the 10-year period ending in 2018, North Carolina is projected to add only about 157,000 low-skill jobs generally filled by high school graduates and dropouts, but 330,000 new jobs -- more than double that number -- will require education beyond high school.
North Carolina is beginning to catch up. Dropout rates are declining. Graduation rates are climbing. Yet, the state must do more to quicken the pace of educational transformation. Its schools must be agents of change in setting higher expectations for all students and providing them the support to reach them.
Bottom line: North Carolina's continuing economic development and progress as a state depends on educational opportunity for all.