James Hurley: E. Ky. can't compete without educated work force

January 6, 2014 

James Hurley is president of the University of Pikeville.

We take heart in the commitment of Gov. Steve Beshear, Congressman Hal Rogers, our legislators and the 1,700 who came together for the SOAR Summit Dec. 9 to strategize about the future of Southern and Eastern Kentucky.

As we await the Rural Policy Research Institute's report to Beshear, the question is: Where do we go from here?

Along with my peers in higher education, including other university presidents, we hosted a SOAR panel to discuss opportunities for lifelong learning innovation. From those representing early childhood education through college, all were united in the significant role education plays in our lives and livelihood.

Education and economic diversity will be central to the region's future. As leaders, we must be academically entrepreneurial, inspiring our students to develop new businesses and focus on understanding high-growth or high-tech ventures, which are more likely to create employment, innovation and growth.

If East Kentucky is going to be competitive in attracting jobs, we must bolster our education attainment rates. Research has proven that states with higher wages have well-educated workforces. There is a direct correlation between the educational attainment of a workforce and median wages in the state.

There is no better time to invest more money in our greatest resource — our people. We have to start thinking from birth to baccalaureate and beyond.

We must invest more in early-education efforts and carry the funding through college completion. The bachelor's degree has replaced the high school diploma as the new normal.

In July, our university launched the Coleman College of Business. Educating the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders will be critical in the development of this region.

Our community outreach efforts will be equally important, including offering classes on personal finance, resumé writing, interviewing skills, how to use social media to gain employment and civic engagement.

Coal mining, our staple economic industry, has been challenged on many fronts and the future of the industry is bleak. As Beshear, Rogers and other officials have pointed out, we must chart a new course, one in which education, infrastructure, technology and regionalism will be vital to our success.

The University of Pikeville's goal is to triple the baccalaureate attainment rate and to double the graduate and professional degrees conferred in Central Appalachia.

Our ability to attract economic diversity, whether it is manufacturing, tech companies or other businesses, depends on developing an educated work force.

James Hurley is president of the University of Pikeville.

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