State Officials, Business Execs Urging More Locals to Get College Degrees

A “disconcerting” number of people in Hawaii either shrug off the importance of higher education or lack college degrees, according to a coalition of state agencies and educators that’s aimed at developing a more educated local workforce.

Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education — which includes the the Executive Office on Early Learning, the state Department of Education and the University of Hawaii —  officially launched the second phase of its college-degree campaign today at an event that brought together Gov. Neil Abercrombie, DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, UH Interim President David Lassner and UH Manoa Student Caucus Chair Richard Mizusawa, among others. “55 by 25,” as the campaign is known, strives to equip 55 percent of working-age adults with two- or four-year college degrees by the year 2025. 

According to the U.S. Census, just under 42 percent of Hawaii’s adults hold degrees. That leaves a lot to be desired considering that, by 2018, 65 percent of jobs in the state will require some college, according to a study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. That “skills gap” is alarming the folks at P-20. 

What’s also concerning, according to a P-20 press release, is that 17 percent of the 700 Hawaii residents surveyed in 2012 by a local market research firm believed a college education isn’t necessary “to develop a marketable workforce.” That’s up from 7 percent of respondents in a 2008 survey asking the same question.

Efforts to get more kamaaina on the college track have garnered widespread support, from education committee chairs Jill Tokuda and Roy Takumi to the president and CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, Ray Vara. Vara in a statement said the 55-by-25 campaign is important because it promises to help businesses like Hawaii Pacific Health, the state’s largest healthcare provider, fill their positions with educated workers. 

As the campaign delves into its second phase, the P-20 team is calling on the business community to offer more internships and create incentives for employees to complete college. It also wants lawmakers to invest in more academic programs, business executives to visit classrooms and parents to get more involved in schools and make sure their kids are getting enough sleep and doing their homework. 

Meanwhile, Kaimuki High School is piloting its own workforce development initiative that’s encouraging students to explore the non-college pathway, too. The school’s Hookipa Workforce Academy is aiming to prepare students for jobs in the hospitality industry and is largely rooted in the mantra that “college isn’t for everybody.” (Read Civil Beat’s coverage of the program here.)

Photo: The launch of phase II of the “55 by ‘25” campaign is celebrated by (L to R) Senator Jill Tokuda, Dr. GG Weisenfeld, David Lassner, Karen Lee, Kathryn Matayoshi, John La Forgia, Governor Neil Abercrombie, Rep. Roy Takumi, and John Komeiji. (Courtesy of Hawaii P-20)

— Alia Wong

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