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Editorial by Chancellor Straney in Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Preparing students for the future

An editorial by University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney was published today in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Island Voices” section:

UH Hilo anticipating job trends to prepare students for future
By Donald Straney
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 14, 2012

The Associated Press recently reported a disturbing challenge facing new college graduates: They are being forced to take low-wage positions in a dismal job market. Prospects for good employment have fallen to the lowest level in a decade, and young adults with bachelor degrees are increasingly “scraping by” in low-wage jobs.

“Only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants,” said the report, based on an analysis of national data.

National trends are not always reflective of individual states. A report by Complete College America states that by 2020, 68 percent of jobs in Hawai‘i will require a career certificate or college degree, but currently only 41 percent of adults have a college degree. By the end of this decade, then, we’ll need to increase the number of college graduates to fill these positions. We simply will not have enough skilled workers to meet the needs of our economy without many more college graduates.

We at the University of Hawai‘i are keenly aware that our state needs a professional workforce to fill the urgent skills gap in a number of fields. They include business and teaching, as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

UH is preparing students in these fields. For example, one of the most urgent challenges locally is in rural health care. Four of the most recently approved degrees at UH Hilo are in health care, including a doctor of nursing practice program, which will start in August 2012.

Studies show job opportunities are often greater for graduates with degrees in science, education and health fields. While that may be true, degrees in humanities, social sciences and related fields are viable pathways to careers in Hawai‘i. We live in a place that values art, music, dance, writing, language, teaching, culture revitalization and other humanities fields — and there are jobs in these sectors.

For example, graduates from UH Hilo’s performing arts program find good jobs as teachers, managers, performers, directors and producers. Graduates from our Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language become teachers in immersion schools, radio personalities, community college instructors, and recording artists. ‘Aha Pūnana Leo, a Hilo-based and nationally recognized nonprofit model for Native American language revitalization programs, is staffed by many graduates of this college.

Valuable experience comes via hands-on learning in internships, collaborative research with professors, and community service. Members of UH Hilo’s Model United Nations Team, for example, have gone on to law school and become attorneys. The team competes annually in national competition and this year captured the highest honor as Outstanding Delegation.

Our nation desperately needs more well-paying jobs for college graduates. UH Hilo is a step ahead of the trends, preparing students now for the future. Our nursing, teaching, computer science, pharmaceutical sciences and other key programs are strong and growing. Interdisciplinary STEM programs — astronomy, math, chemistry, biology and more — make our graduates much more flexible in taking advantage of limited opportunities. Our humanities disciplines are in sync with Hawai‘i’s need for professionals in culture and the arts, language, and communications. Internships, research projects, and community projects give graduates the experience and connections that get them noticed and hired.

Our kuleana, or responsibility, is to improve the quality of life of the people of Hawai‘i, the Pacific region and the world. The national trends on diminishing employment opportunities are disturbing, but we are working hard to counter those trends to create a productive future for our island and state.

Donald Straney is chancellor of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

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