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Moving beyond Plato versus Plumbing in North Carolina
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These are hard economic times, and North Carolinians want answers: What should our next governor and policymakers do to get our citizens and state back onto a path toward prosperity? And what will the labor market look like when it finally recovers from the Great Recession? Can a broad bipartisan, or “purple,” consensus be reached to invest in enhancing the skills of our current and future workers, especially through more and higher-quality education and training? If so, where will such skill enhancement and training take place? How much formal education and what types of skills, training, and credentials are most appropriate given recent changes in and challenges confronting the North Carolina economy? Should college for all be our sole goal?

There is an intense debate, both nationally and within North Carolina, about whether we should be preparing all students for college or only some of them. To cut to the chase, does the future belong to those who study Plato or to those who master plumbing? As part of the Carolina Seminar on the Future of North Carolina, we and a range of other participants listened to diverse opinions on the future of higher education and the workforce expressed by a wide variety of academic and other leaders—Tom Ross, president of the University of North Carolina; Keith Crisco, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce; Scott Ralls, UNC Community College President; Bonnie Gordon, senior program director at MDC; Jay Schalin, director of state policy at the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy; and Leslie Winner, president of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

This project discusses and contextualizes today’s policy debate over postsecondary education, details the parlous condition of the North Carolina economy since 2000 and analyzes future labor market (occupational) projections, and lays out some simple but powerful bipartisan recommendations regarding an overall career and educational plan—and individual student passways—to the future for our state.

It is time to reaffirm the position that every capable and interested student and future young adult be afforded the opportunity to attend college or to complete some kind of high school or postsecondary credential with relevance to the labor market.