Editorial: State faces college grad shortage

California will need an additional 2 million college graduates to fill all its job openings in 2022, a 48 percent increase. And many highly profitable businesses are likely to depart California if they face a shortage of professional, scientific, technical and managerial employees.

This warning comes from a new study by the California Business Roundtable and the Campaign for College Opportunity. If existing trends continue, not enough Californians will graduate from college to supply a growing job market that must soon replace millions of well-educated Baby Boomer retirees.

The “Keeping California’s Edge” report said jobs requiring higher education are growing faster than overall employment. Soon one in three new jobs generated in California will require an associate degree or higher. Today it is just one in four.

Meantime, California has been falling behind in educational achievement. It now ranks among the lowest of the 50 states in test scores, per-child spending and proportion of young people who go directly from high school into college. During the past two years, California community college enrollment has dropped by more than 300,000 due to rising tuition fees and budget cuts of classroom slots.

At the same time, a new population bulge of many more thousands of college-age students during the next five to 10 years will leave no space available for them at California campuses unless more new facilities are put into operation.

This current study supports the claims of a similar report last year by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which found the state’s population of college graduates is declining and will probably continue to lose ground unless more minorities earn degrees.

California’s success as a major player in the global economy has substantially depended on a work force that is among the most educated in the world. To maintain the state’s competitiveness in crucial leading-edge industries such as computer technology, biotech, health care and education, California must now produce a total number of new college graduates equal to the populations of San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego combined.

College educated employees with in-demand skills create widening ripples of economic benefit through the entire consumer economy. One highly educated employee in a high-tech industry generates enough economic value to support 3.7 other employees, the new Business Roundtable report stated.

From aging highway infrastructure to fragile flood levees, numerous public needs are jostling for increased spending as the California economic recovery produces beyond-expectation revenues. But for ensuring the long-term prosperity of the state, perhaps no investment is more vital than enhancing the quality and availability of higher education for Californians.

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