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West Virginia’s higher education leaders launched a campaign Wednesday with a goal to have 60 percent of the state’s workforce with a formal education credential beyond high school by the year 2030, nearly doubling the percentage of working-age West Virginians with a postsecondary credential in a little more than a decade.

The campaign to reach the goal, dubbed as "West Virginia's Climb" was launched at the annual Student Success Summit, and aims to challenge the state to gear up and accelerate the journey toward current and future workforce needs.

"It’s a lofty goal, but one that is attainable through awareness, college access and dedication of the appropriate resources, according to staff from the Commission and the West Virginia Community and Technical College System (CTCS)," a press release stated. 

Carolyn Long, interim chancellor for the Higher Education Policy Commission, stressed the importance of a formal education and said students, their parents, and working-age adults need to plan for education beyond high school if they hope to land decent jobs and create opportunities for themselves within the state. 

"This is exceptionally critical for West Virginia’s economic future," Long said. "Employers, especially those looking to build their businesses in our state, must have a pool of employees who have a college degree. Without these types of educated workers in West Virginia, business and industry will have to look elsewhere."

The 60 percent “attainment goal” will bring West Virginia in line with 41 other states that have officially set similar postsecondary educational attainment success measures, according to the Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to everyone. 

According to Lumina, only 34.7 percent of West Virginians in the 25-64 age range held at least a workforce-relevant certificate. As of the Fall 2017, only 55 percent of recent West Virginia high school graduates were enrolled in college.

Dr. Sarah Tucker, CTCS chancellor said state community and technical colleges are ready to help the state's citizens in reaching the 60 percent goal. 

"A range of programs of study are offered — from certificates to advanced degrees and everything in between — to assist West Virginians in getting the education needed to land the good, high-paying jobs that will continue to drive our state’s economic recovery," Tucker explained. 

According to HEPC, the highest percentage by county of working-aged certificate- and degree-holders is Monongalia at 45 percent, while the lowest is McDowell at eight percent.

West Virginia's Climb county fact sheets stated Raleigh County had a college-going rate of only 50 percent in 2017, when 87 percent of high school seniors graduated, and Fayette County had a college-going rate of only 45 percent when nearly 84 percent of high school seniors graduated. 

Bruce Vandal, senior vice president for Complete College America noted the postsecondary attainment goal set by the state is further evidence of the its commitment to grow its economy by leveraging its colleges and universities.

"By ensuring significantly more West Virginians have the skills and credentials that are in demand in the workforce, more residents will have access to high wage jobs," Vandal said. 

Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH 

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