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Education Matters Greatly for the Future of Florida

September 25, 2011 - 6:00pm

With the culmination of Presidency 5, two presidential debates in Florida and the CPAC conference its clear that the center of the political maelstrom for 2012 will be in Florida. Why not? Florida has the right blend of demographics, attitude, mixed cultures, and a deep appreciation of hardball politics.

But Florida also seems to have a passion for progress and experimentation, innovation and exploration. After all, we were discovered almost 500 years ago due to mans quest for the unknown, and we have continued this passion through the years in large part due to space exploration and the desire to go where no one has gone before.

And now, one unknown we explore is whether one of the now nine candidates being considered by the Republican Party for presidential nomination in 2012 is the right one to challenge the incumbent. Truly a tough and meaningful choice and worthy of the extended length of time we see this year for debates and deliberation.

A constant realization is that the future direction of our state and our country is driven by the choices we make today.

Central to all of this political activity is the reality that the economy of our state and our country is shaky at best. I heard this loudly when I participated on a panel at the Future of Florida event sponsored by the Florida Chamber Foundation. Hundreds of business owners and employers from across Florida gathered to listen to policy experts and politicians, almost universally of the mind that what we need in Florida are quality jobs.

They also heard that what Florida needs is an enhanced focus on the valuable role of higher education, working in partnership with our states economic development efforts, to not only produce the work force needed, but also as a working partner in our efforts to attract, retain and expand businesses in Florida.

I was fortunate to be able to present at the event, and during my presentation I focused on the importance of creating an engaged work force; one capable of intense reasoning and one with enhanced critical-thinking skills.

It is not enough to simply train people to perform tasks. We must focus on reading, writing and reasoning skills as the workers we need today may look quite different from the ones we need in a few short years. Workers of the future will need to be able to adjust, retrain, refocus and adapt as the reaches of technological advancement will create an employment world far different from the past.

Education matters greatly. Current data magnify this importance. The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent and Floridas is currently at 10.7 percent. National data show that people with a bachelors degree or higher have an unemployment rate of only 3.6 percent. Just having a high school diploma drops the rate from 9.1 percent down to 7.5 percent and an associates degree drops it to 5.9 percent.

The impact of the value of education on employment is further emphasized when one looks at annual average earnings. Earnings for high school graduates average $20,900. A baccalaureate degree raises this average to $44,500, a masters degree to $63,000 and a doctorate degree to $72,000.

One important key to the advancement of the Florida economy is to better link our educational systems, our work force and our employers across Florida and use this strengthened link to broadcast to the nation that Florida is ready, open for business, and moving forward with a renewed passion for progress and experimentation, innovation and exploration. But even as we look to the future, we must always remember the foundation of a quality work force lies in the ancient skills of reading, writing, speaking, calculating, and reasoning. In these areas we must do better.

Our future depends on it.

Dr. Ed H. Moore is president and CEO, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.

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