Chamber of Commerce looks to shrink higher education gap

  • Saturday, March 29, 2014

Degrees of Change Charleston provides information and resources on a critical issue facing the region: the gap between degrees offered and those needed for career opportunities. Filling the gap can begin only with legislative action.

Developed by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Degrees of Change website and communications portal provides clarity on the need for legislative change allowing local institutions to add advanced degrees to their offerings.

Students in the region interested in attaining undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering and technology-related studies have limited options for locally resourced education. Providing locally sourced higher education and retaining the region's talent is crucial to fulfilling needs of today's and tomorrow's employers.

“Last year, this region produced just 17 computer programmers for the nearly 180 jobs available to them,” said Chris Fraser, chairman of the Charleston Metro Chamber Board. “That was great news for the graduates each received multiple job offers, but it was problematic for this region.” Computer scientists are just one example of the gap.

Appearing last week in Columbia before a S.C. House legislative subcommittee charged with studying the issue, Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. encouraged lawmakers to take a long view, considering the community's needs 25 years from now. Not creating a legal mechanism for awarding new-economy degrees would be a huge missed opportunity. “It's about us aspiring to greatness,” Riley said.

Data show that the region's population is trending younger than the national average, and the best-educated people generally move here from somewhere else. As a result, area businesses are filling the gap between the jobs they create and local degrees offered by recruiting elsewhere.

Members of the public are encouraged to visit www.degreesofchangechs.com to learn more about the gap. Supporters are encouraged to sign a petition on the website, contact elected officials and share their experiences on social media (#DegreesChangeChs).

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