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Returning to higher education is one answer to job loss

There’s no question our community has taken more than its share of economic hits, most recently with the idling of the General Motors’ Lordstown Assembly Complex.

You don’t need to have worked at GM-Lordstown to be reeling from its closure. Suppliers have seen orders drop, while big and small businesses are getting less traffic. All of us are touched, even if the impact is indirect.

What can we, as a community, do? What can we tell our family members, co-workers and friends who are worried about their future and whether they’ll be able to earn enough to pay their bills?

A smart choice for many people is to go back to school. Absolutely, making that decision can be intimidating. But getting a credential, or 2-year or 4-year college degree, is the best insurance today’s workers can have against unemployment or underemployment. Employers want to be certain that a job applicant has knowledge and skills and that he or she is committed to being a continuous learner.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that workers with an associate’s degree earn $200,000 more over their lifetimes than those with some college. Credentials also are powerful currency in today’s job market where technical skills are in high demand.

Our community is rich in higher education options. Area colleges can help young people and older adults alike make themselves more competitive, and do so without taking on a lot of debt by maximizing financial aid. Many people are unaware that they often can get credit for prior learning on the job or from the military. That’s right — experience can translate to college credit. As important, every college offers classes online, at night and on weekends — all with the goal of making it easy to become a college or credential “completer.”

An estimated 1.6 million Ohioans started college, but had to quit. Maybe they didn’t have reliable childcare, their employer needed them to work more hours or they couldn’t pay rent and tuition. An estimated 137,000 of these people are what educators call “stopped-out” students, meaning they’re only a few classes away from earning a degree or credential. Admissions counselors can help those individuals discover how they can boost their earning potential and assist those who aren’t as far along on an education pathway, too. Counselors know where the good jobs are and how much the work pays.

While lots of industries have job openings, our community is particularly seeing opportunities in machining, advanced manufacturing, industrial maintenance, commercial trucking, welding, logistics and health care. There is a place for everyone.

Some adults worry that they won’t feel at home on campuses. But college isn’t just for 18-year-olds anymore. Almost 4 in 10 students nationally are over 25 and a similar percent attend only part-time.

Do you know someone who “stopped out” of college, or maybe he or she never started, but now wish they had continued their education after high school? Encourage them to think about improving their skills and marketability. Or offer to help with their childcare needs. Or promise them a flexible work schedule so they can juggle their job and school.

It’s estimated that by 2020 — less than a year from now — 65 percent of all jobs will require some post-secondary education. Ask area employers, and they’ll tell you that prediction is already upon us.

Jimmie Bruce is president of Eastern Gateway Community College.

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