Within my first year as director and associate dean of the Lowcountry Graduate Center, I relied on recent, independent research data quantifying the demand for jobs and the talent “gaps” in our region in order to strategically target employment sectors for the LGC’s attention. They were identified broadly as: 1) advanced manufacturing, engineering services, and software development/IT support, 2) healthcare management and community wellness, and 3) K4-12 teacher education and administrative leadership. The next crucial step was creating advisory boards from area employers in each of these sectors to advise us with respect to specific program needs, workplace skill sets and knowledge, and hiring frustrations. All three are well-established and meeting three times a year. All three boards have been instrumental in encouraging fruitful initiatives by the LGC. In the winter of 2015, we surveyed full-time employees in the manufacturing and high-tech sector to identify areas of study they were considering in graduate engineering or computer science. Interpretation of data was enhanced by follow-up focus groups with volunteer respondents and shared with the state’s four institutions housing graduate education in engineering and/or computer science/math. In the healthcare sector, the LGC assisted South Carolina State University with its creation and launch of a new MBA concentration in healthcare management and hosted its public announcement with a packed reception in early January of this year.
The most recent initiative was a survey to identify teacher interests in graduate level education, factors influencing their choices and decisions to enroll, and impediments to pursuing such educational and career goals within the foreseeable future (defined in the survey as five years). Based on the breadth of representation on the LGC’s K4-12 Teacher Education and Administrative Leadership Advisory Board, the survey covered a target teacher population of over 10,000 teachers spanning the counties of Beaufort, Colleton, Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley. It encompassed all public school districts and selected private schools. The results are in and a report has been published, with a news release and infographic covering highlights of findings on our website.
Nearly half, or 45.6% of all survey respondents, indicate they are considering a graduate level course of study – degree or non-degree – in education within the next five years. An additional 19.8% are considering graduate study pursuit but still unsure.
Despite impediments, this strong interest in graduate education among today’s teachers is encouraging to our schools, their administration, and higher education institutions. A recent report on educator recruitment and retention revealed that an average of 5,200 public school teachers are leaving South Carolina’s classrooms annually, and only 2,200 students are graduating from the state’s teacher education programs each year, illustrating the need to recruit, prepare, and retain quality teachers for K4 – 12 schools, as the gap is growing.
Addressing this gap is important for obvious reasons affecting quality education for children in our schools. A related factor is the impact that the availability of quality schools and teachers has on companies considering relocating to the Metro Charleston area or even the expansion by area employers in this location versus another. The Charleston Regional Development Alliance considers K4-12 schools to be among the top five considerations by such firms and the relocation consultants advising them. Quality education – including the retention of quality teachers and administrators – is essential to the economic vitality of our state’s region, as it fuels future workforce development and availability.
The many local avenues to serve the educational needs of youth and young adults aspiring to pursue careers. It cites the Metro Charleston Chamber-sponsored 40+ career academies in fields of science, technology, engineering, and math; business and IT, culinary/hospitality, and health sciences. The LGC serves on the Chamber’s advisory council in health sciences. More than 50 business partners offer over 140 youth apprenticeships in manufacturing, culinary/hospital, and computer technology through a highly successful program at Trident Technical College. Through a program partnership with the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship, YesCarolina has certified over 725 teachers to date in the state in teaching young people some of the skills needed to launch their own enterprise one day.
Completing this research on graduate education and career goals of the region’s teachers, the LGC stands shoulder to shoulder with the CRDA and other community leaders in support of such vital initiatives as Cradle to Career, Begin With Books, Read to Succeed, Charleston Region of Reading Partners, Communities in Schools – Charleston Area, and other such efforts and organizations to grow and nurture the talent not only in our schools but inclusively across our entire region’s communities.