As we approach Election Day, it is perhaps a good time to evaluate the higher education issues and challenges facing our nation.
Todays college students are vastly different than 20 years ago. The fastest rising demographic in colleges across the United States is students who are more than 25 years old. This group is increasingly burdened as they balance professional and family responsibilities while advancing their education. They are willing to invest in themselves by taking out loans when needed, but limited job prospects and a continued high unemployment rate are at the forefront of graduates minds.
Some studies show almost half of recent college grads were either un- or underemployed. This includes graduates of every age.
These concerns cannot be separated from the critical need to adequately prepare the work force of tomorrow. Linking individual initiative in pursuit of a college degree to the needs of the marketplace is a difficult task, but one that deserves discussion. We need intelligent, creative and capable workers to grow and improve our economy. And we truly need an engaged national conversation about higher education in America.
Sadly, the presidential debates did not offer substantive solutions to these issues, which affect both our students and our own futures. Ensuring graduates find jobs is crucial to our nations economic growth. Neither presidential candidate will succeed in rebuilding the economy without a talented work force who can earn wages sufficient enough to raise families while managing school-related debt.
Floridians are eager to be a part of this conversation and we are fortunate to have an independent higher education system that helps meet the educational and economic needs of families in our state. Floridas independent colleges and universities are accessible and affordable, attracting talent from around the globe.
Our graduates continue their careers to excel in many fields, building the strong foundation of our economy by becoming Floridas teachers, nurses, engineers, doctors, business people, scientists, and leaders. In fact, almost 74 percent of the degrees granted by ICUF institutions last year were in STEM, business, health-related professions and education; all critical to the economic vitality of Florida.
The Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) are preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow by awarding degrees that result in employment. In 2012, ICUF institutions awarded 53 percent of professional degrees in Florida (e.g., medicine, dentistry, law), and 38 percent of all degrees in computer sciences and information technology. Our states 31 ICUF institutions award more than a quarter of all bachelors degrees, 40 percent of masters degrees, and 30 percent of the doctoral degrees in the state.
The revitalized economy will demand more from our work force, making it difficult for unqualified, inexperienced candidates to find a job. Employers are looking for exceptional talent and ICUF institutions, as well as our excellent public colleges and universities, are focused on producing graduates capable of meeting the challenges of the future.
Florida students must have faith that they can graduate from college and be prepared to compete for jobs, join a global work force, and make their dreams a reality all while helping to cultivate our collective economic prosperity. Our higher education institutions help students do this every year.
I encourage elected officials to engage in a solution-driven conversation about higher education as it relates to jobs, critical work force needs, and incentives for students and those employed to continue their education. Brighter workers in every occupation are better workers. Investing in the success of our students is an investment in our own success.
Tallahassee-based Ed H. Moore, Ph.D., is president and CEO, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.