Dr. Rebecca L. Watts
Dr. Rebecca L. Watts
By Dr. Rebecca L. Watts
Western Governors University-Ohio

A broad cross-section of Ohio leaders – from government, education and the business community – are working hard to close an impending skills gap that could potentially spell trouble for our otherwise thriving state economy.

In a world where education beyond a high school diploma is increasingly required to land a good-paying job, it’s clear that our state must produce a strong supply of workers with the skills needed to fill those positions. Otherwise, jobseekers suffer when the best occupations are beyond their reach and employers are frustrated when they can’t find skilled workers to keep business going.

That’s what can happen when a comparatively low percentage of working-age adultshave completed requirements for a postsecondary degree, certificate or work-related credential. Economists predict that Ohio’s economy will require 65 percent of residents, ages 25-64, to have a degree, certificate or other postsecondary workforce credential by 2025.

But while education officials have been working hard to reach that level of attainment, in 2019 only 44 percent of Ohio adults hold a postsecondary degree. According to state officials, that leaves about 3.7 million working-age Ohioans without a postsecondary credential.

In today’s economy the lack of educational attainment is a definite obstacle for 21st century jobseekers, those looking for careers in an increasingly competitive, technology-oriented world economy.

It’s an obstacle as well for our state’s economy, placing Ohio at a disadvantage with other states that have higher rates of skills attainment. But it’s a gap Ohio leaders are working to close.

It’s not only educators and economists who are committed to addressing this issue. No one feels the skills gap more than Ohio’s business community, where concerned leaders have been engaged for some time in efforts to improve education and increase the percentage of Ohioans attaining job-qualifying degrees or credentials. State government leaders have also been actively working to increase educational attainment rates, supporting collaborative efforts by the business and education communities find solutions.

A significant step forward occurred last year, when Ohio became the eighth state to partner with Western Governors University (WGU), an accredited, nonprofit online university with an innovative learning approach and affordable tuition structure. Now, as the state’s newest university, WGU Ohio offers more than 60 accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, information technology, education and healthcare – including nursing. The school’s competency-based model enables students to learn at their own pace, on their own watch and outside the constraints of a classroom setting. And at a per-year, flat-rate tuition of roughly $7,000, WGU Ohio is about half the cost of other online universities.

As chancellor of WGU Ohio, I have heard countless success stories from our graduates who say they were able to complete their degree programs because they could to fit their learning into the spaces of their lives. That’s important, because in contrast to the typical campus-based university, the average age of WGU Ohio students is 36 and nearly three-quarters work full time.

Many of these students are Ohioans who had previously earned some postsecondary credits elsewhere, but for various reasons – work schedules, family obligations, high costs – they hadn’t been able to continue their studies. It’s really important for them to complete that work and advance their careers, and WGU Ohio is helping make that possible.

More than 3,300 Ohioans are enrolled in WGU Ohio programs, where they are working to earn degrees aligned to our state’s in-demand careers. By offering education-to-career pathways in health and nursing, business, teaching and information technology in a model that meets the needs of busy adult learners, WGU Ohio is helping address the growing need for highly skilled, credentialed workers required for today’s in-demand jobs. That’s one important step toward closing Ohio’s skills gap and we are pleased to be part of the solution.

Dr. Rebecca L. Watts is chancellor of Western Governors University-Ohio. She was formerly an associate vice chancellor at the Ohio Department of Education and also served at Ohio University and the University of Wyoming. She holds a doctorate in higher education leadership from Ohio University.