Just over a week ago, business policy group ReadyNation released a report saying Illinois could be short 150,000 qualified workers in a variety of fields by the year 2020.

ReadyNation says the number 150,000 comes from the fact that 69 percent of the 2.3 million job openings in Illinois require postsecondary education, but only 62 percent of Illinoisans have reached this level of education, creating a 7 percent gap — or 150,000 workers.

Inevitably, this is a situation that brings a plethora of economic issues for the state of Illinois, such as making the state less competitive, and the apparent solution, according to Sean Noble, state director of ReadyNation, is putting more funds into early childhood education. However, seeing as this gap comes from a lack of people obtaining postsecondary education, the impending shortage of qualified workers lends way to the question of higher education’s role in the job market.

An article in The Daily Illini today pointed to the University’s Career Center as a beneficial resource to help employers find qualified workers. Being a University student, I can attest to the job-related advantages that a college education brings me, but I can also attest to the huge financial burden it brings to my family — and I’m certainly not the only student with that awareness . Considering the consistently high price of college tuition and fees, and the debt many students incur afterward, obtaining postsecondary education is by no means a reasonable option for everyone. Of course, this proves problematic when higher education becomes expected for most in-state jobs.

But then there’s the whole disparity existing between the large number of jobs requiring a college degree and the high price of college that makes pursuing higher education impossible for some. While 61 percent of Illinoisans enroll in postsecondary education, only 37 percent persist through graduation, according to Advance Illinois.

These Illinois jobs requiring postsecondary education need to account for what is creating that 7 percent gap ­— those 150,000 unqualified workers who don’t receive this education.

In terms of tuition, looking specifically at our own University, the cost of attending the Urbana and Chicago campuses climbed 71 percent over the past decade. It wasn’t until this year that the Board of Trustees froze tuition rates for in-state students, making this the first time in 20 years tuition rates will not increase — although student fees and room and board expenses will. The tuition freeze is a great first step to addressing higher education costs, but by no means the only step needed.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to go here or to other colleges and universities know higher education is something to be valued as it provides an immense amount of help for jump-starting students’ careers.

Those who attend college are able to learn a trade, have access to internships to help them in their desired trade and students have the opportunity to work with professors and other professionals in their field, but we have to remember that at this point in time, obtaining higher education is a privilege.

OK, so long story short: There seems to be a vicious cycle of jobs wanting college degrees, people not being able to afford or not receiving a college education and therefore a lack of people to fill these roles.

I realize my privilege in being able to even have the option to go to a university, and I would love to say that getting more people to attend college is the solution to all of our workforce-related problems.

But with the dents postsecondary education puts in people’s pockets, we can’t keep playing the “everyone should go to college” card. I am no economist and I am no Olivia Pope crisis solver, so I can’t provide a bullet-proof solution to our state’s issue. What I can say, though, as a current college student who understands the importance of a higher education, the simultaneous drain it puts on a bank account and the stress of the job market, is that we need to find some way to address this discrepancy if we want to have more qualified workers.


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