Message from the LGC Director – January 2016

Nancy Muller

One of the Lowcountry Graduate Center’s (LGC) highest priority sectors for graduate education is K-12 Education for teachers and leadership. We are actively addressing our goal with the launch of Literacy Education (M.Ed. and Graduate Certificate) from The Citadel, with classes beginning at our North Charleston facility in Summer 2016, and the University of Charleston, S.C. at the College of Charleston’s Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) in Special Education, whose classes will be available in North Charleston in Fall 2016. Already, the LGC hosts full program offerings and selected coursework towards graduate degrees and certificates in Gifted and Talented Education, Student Affairs, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, Elementary Education, and Middle Grades Education from the College of Charleston and/or The Citadel.

But why is K-12 Education considered a key employment sector by the LGC for building out the Lowcountry’s professional workforce?

The simple answer is population growth. There’s been an 11% increase in elementary and secondary public school enrollment since 2008. Anticipating growth following economic recovery from the closure of the Navy Base and the 2007-2009 Recession, school districts across the Tri-County Area lobbied for and were granted funding for a major $850+ million new construction and capital renovation effort across its three counties, over half of which was in Charleston County Schools alone. Still, we are outstripping capacity in some schools. Student population in Charleston public schools grew this year by as much as 40% over last year in Mount Pleasant, citing a feature story in the Post and Courier in September 2015. Over a dozen schools across the Tri-County area face significantly overcrowded conditions, despite advanced planning.

Dorchester District 2 is one of the fastest growing districts in the entire state, and recent announcement of Volvo’s arrival with its North American headquarters, alongside its suppliers,will bring thousands of new families into the area.

Outfitting these new and expanded school facilities clearly calls for more teachers, managerial leaders, and support staff. But the issue of priority goes deeper for the LGC’s strategic priority than sheer population growth.

Fueling this population growth is new jobs. To continue to enjoy a strong economic recovery from the recession and to sustain the region in a competitive, global economy, we must close the identified “talent gaps” in our local workforce, such as projected unfilled job openings to occur by 2018 by the Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA) in collaboration with the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce: 20% gap in Industrial Production jobs, 16% in Computer Programming & Software Development jobs, 14% in Science & Engineering jobs, 13% in Sales & Marketing jobs, and 10% in Medical jobs.

The CRDA and the Charleston Metro Chamber quantified in their 2015 Economic Scorecard that the number of “specialized knowledge” workers in Metro Charleston increased 36% over the 2005 – 2013 period, higher than the growth rate of any other directly comparable regions of the country and TRIPLE that of the U. S. average. Unfortunately, our demographic profile over the period shifted positively largely because the in-migration of working professionals were more highly educated than existing South Carolina residents – and hence took the higher paying positions with new and expanding employers.

The LGC aims to keep these high-paying jobs and opportunities for advancement in the hands of those who are already living in the area, with the overarching goal to keep our regional economy vibrant. We still have a journey to get there, and you can be a part of that journey. The Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that those with a bachelor’s degree earn 65% more than those with only a high school diploma. Generally, the data reveal that income potential grows – and the chances of unemployment plummet – as one’s level of educational attainment improves. The argument is logical and flows therefore, as the Economic Policy Institute tells us: Income is higher in states where the workforce is better educated and higher performing, thereby individually contributing to higher state tax revenues and thus the opportunity for investment by policymakers and legislators in public education. Research shows a direct correlation between spending per student in public elementary and secondary day schools and strong, quality (and safe) school systems.

In SC, we have even more heavy lifting to do. The Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative tells us from independent, national data that nearly one in four (23%) of all children in our area are growing up in poverty. Over half (53%) of all public school students are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch. According to Dr. David Cole, President of MUSC, “We know healthy kids are better equipped to learn, and learning is the key to life success.” Through such efforts summoned by Cradle to Career, we are collectively working to make sure not just some but all students are ready to learn. Today, 76% are not proficient in vocabulary upon entering kindergarten at age 5. Low education and poverty go hand in glove. We have a mountain to climb.

Begin with Books
The Lowcountry Graduate Center has partnered with Begin With Books in support of their campaign to raise literacy rates in North Charleston.

Using 13 relevant metrics such as standardized test scores, high school drop out rates, and such, an independent panel of education experts ranked SC’s public schools at 47 out of 50, while our surrounding neighbors ranked 11 (Virginia), 24 (North Carolina), 26 (Florida), and 35 (Georgia).

Still, we have made significant strides in recent years in the Tri-County Area public schools. For example, today, we have an 81% on-time high school graduation rate, improved from just 69% in 2010. Remaining are gaps by race/ethnicity and especially among those children growing up in lower economic status households.

Yet, lack of readiness for the workforce and the foundation to become specialized knowledge workers are best illustrated by recent statistics released by Trident Technical College of students from area high schools, where: 40% of first term courses were failed, 9 in 10 needed math remediation to pass, 2 in 5 required English remediation, and 1 in 3 needed reading remediation.

To adequately address “readiness” at preschool, elementary, high school, and post-high school ranks, we need highly trained teachers equipped with the latest in highest quality education themselves. Are you on the path to serving by upgrading your capability with graduate education?

I hope to see you at our Open House on January 14th and afterwards, in class.

Nancy Muller, PhD
Director and Associate Dean
mullernj@lowcountrygradcenter.org