Okla. students unprepared for college and the workforce

5 April 2017
Raven Fawcett, Apprentice Editor

The education system needs to be re-evaluated in light of the thousands of jobs available to increasingly few people.

According to Oklahoma Works, an initiative created by Governor Mary Fallin to improve Oklahoma’s economy and labor market, there are not enough people with current or future degrees to fill the needs of the workforce by 2020. This deficit is echoed by state officials who note a current lack of qualified candidates for thousands of jobs — around 60,000 jobs are unfilled because of the lack of applicants’ degrees.

The organization Complete College America confirms these findings. The organization aims to increase the number of people who graduate with a degree from a college or university, particularly people from minority groups. The available jobs are concentrated in the STEM field — areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Complete College America works with 33 states, including Oklahoma. The organization should theoretically increase the number of people with degrees. However, Oklahoma had less degree-earning graduates than expected this year, even working with Complete College America.

Theoretically, this sounds like good news. College graduates can rejoice. The paper they spent years working to get their name printed on will be worth a job. However, those empty jobs are mostly for STEM majors. Students of the humanities are far from guaranteed a job. STEM majors are not guaranteed a job that they will like, or even that jobs will be open in their specific fields or areas of interest. All that is certain is that there are too many jobs currently available because of a larger problem.

College debt in America is growing. Higher education is wildly expensive, leading to students graduating with more debt or foregoing college entirely. The available jobs might be due to the inability of many people to cope with the costs of college. With the state in a budget crisis, education is struggling at all levels.

It is also entirely possible that many find higher education more difficult, or merely impossible, after their education in high school left them without the tools to succeed in college. Complete College America reports that 60.9 percent of first year students at two-year colleges enroll in remedial classes, and 48.4 percent of first years at four-year, non-flagship universities enroll in remedial classes. Education is difficult to attain for even the most dedicated of students these days.

The education system needs improvement at all levels. From funding to curriculum, it is clear that there are problems with the system as it currently stands. The evidence is in the vacant jobs that remain available for want of qualified applicants. Until the education system can be fixed, the available jobs can be seen as an opportunity for otherwise only moderately qualified candidates.The money that could be earned in these positions is not going towards paying back workers’ college debt or paying for their groceries. If there is a positive outcome of the issue, it is the possibility that people with degrees but little experience, or a lot of experience but no degree or an irrelevant degree, might have better luck scoring a job.