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Take my word for it

I love words and word play. Words are important. Napoleon Hill (1883-1970) said, “think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.”

All of us – young and old alike – can think of times when words had consequences. Sometimes, if we are honest, our own words had unintended consequences. I do not advocate censorship, but I do urge that we all “take care.” Words can inspire action which is harmful; shouting fire in a crowded theater, for example.

As St. John Paul II said, “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

For Wisconsin to be competitive in the Knowledge Economy, we need to increase the educational attainment of our population. Over 60 percent of the jobs of the future will require postsecondary education, while only 41 percent of adults in Wisconsin currently hold an associates degree or higher. Census data show that Wisconsin has a negative net migration rate of college educated people under the age of 40, indicating it is losing graduates to other states. Many of the top jobs on the market today did not exist five years ago. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adults will hold between 10 and 14 jobs in their working career; for millennials, this number may be even higher. According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, demographic trends show that “Wisconsin’s biggest long-term economic challenge is a shortage of workers.” These are facts, and we – in both the public and private sectors – must act now if we are to have any prospect of securing our future.

The challenge is that participation in postsecondary education is faced with troubling trends. Two years ago, a national survey showed that 17 percent of families were not even considering higher education for themselves or their children. Last year, the survey was repeated and the surveys found 28 percent not considering postsecondary education. I cannot help but believe that part of the blame rests with those who repeatedly say “you don’t really need college” or “too many people are going to college.”

The facts are that those who have any education beyond high school earn more and experience less unemployment.

I am not suggesting that those who say “too many are going to college” have bad intentions. Some are reacting to an equally over-reaching assertion that “everyone should go to college.” I would argue instead that everyone should have the opportunity to fulfill their true potential and to pursue a pathway that is right for them – rather than being pigeonholed or discouraged by others. We should not force people through the door, but the door should be open. Everyone may not need to go to college, but everyone who wants to go to college should have the opportunity and be encouraged to do so.

Take my word for it.