Drone video reveals a Miami U Middletown campus nestled in a forest

How educated are Butler and Warren counties? Officials are giving new attention to that question

But with six years remaining, the state is 21 percent away from that target.

Jobs in the Miami Valley and around the state are becoming more technical and skilled in nature, said Rick Pearce, president of The Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton. Even the manufacturing industry, which has historically been open to anyone, needs workers with the training to operate increasingly more complicated and computerized machinery, he said.

“Continuing education is the key,” Pearce said. “A high school education is not enough. You need some type of training after high school to be competitive.”

Around 44.1 percent of Ohio’s 6 million or so residents aged 25- to 64 have a college degree, certificate or training in a skilled trade, according to the Ohio Department of Higher Education. That’s up nine percentage points from a little over a decade ago but still far off from the 2025 goal set by the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

The need to boost degrees, credentials and training has led to several statewide and national efforts in recent years.

The state legislature in 2017 passed a law requiring ODHE to track and release an annual report on Ohio’s degree, credential and training rate. Last year, the state’s public universities launched a campaign called Forward Ohio that aims to increase attention, opportunities and funding for four-year schools.

Ohio is three points behind the United States as a whole, which has just under 47 percent of citizens with a post-secondary education, according to the state. There are 32 states where the rate of college degrees, credentials or training is higher than Ohio’s.

Warren County has one of the highest rates in the state at 53.5 percent for 25- to 64-year-olds with a college education. Butler County’s percentage is 39.7 and Preble County’s is 24.9, the second lowest in the region.

The Chamber has analyzed the five-year forecast for jobs in demand in Butler and Warren counties, as it relates to members and large manufacturers, Pearce said. The top five jobs: Customer service representatives, registered nurses, insurance sales agents, bank tellers and heavy and tractor-trailers truck drivers.

Pearce said research shows that “a good job” is considered a position that pays $35,000 a year, or $17 an hour for full-time, for those under the age of 45 and $45,000, or $22 an hour, for workers older than 45. There was a time, Pearce said, many of those “good jobs” without a bachelor’s degree were in manufacturing. But those jobs are declining while jobs in skilled-services industries, such as health services and financial services, are increasing.

“If you don’t know what you want to do, there are other options,” he said. “College is expensive.”

Pearce believes high school graduates need to ask themselves: What am I good at and what do I enjoy doing? Match those talents with your profession, he said.

Mimi Sylva, director of Cincinnati State Middletown, is working with the Chamber to offer programs that match the needs of the local workforce. For instance, Cincinnati State hopes to offer a banking certificate, then encourage the students to obtain more education and “move up the ranks,” she said.

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Sylva said there was a time when high school graduates either went to college or entered the workforce, one or the other. But now, Sylva said, high school graduates can start working and attend school, either online or at night, at the same time. She said employers can offer employees education reimbursement and that’s a “very attractive carrot” to recruit potential workers.

Also at Cincinnati State, the goal is to provide students “short-term training,” Sylva said.

“The jobs are now,” she said.

Cathy Bishop-Clark, associate provost and dean of Miami University Regionals, said Ohio is asking the regional campuses of Ohio’s public universities to offer relevant applied bachelor’s degree programs to help meet the needs of Ohio’s “current and future workforce.”

That is exactly what Miami Regionals is doing, she said. U.S. News & World Report, in its 2019 Best Colleges edition, published a story about the “eight hot majors with a bright future.” The list included: mechatronics engineering, business, computer science, data science, cognitive science, nursing, pharmaceutical sciences and human resources.

She said Miami University Regionals offer the first six on the list.

Bishop-Clark said Miami Regionals consult on a regular basis with businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and chambers of commerce in their communities to ensure they’re offering what local workforce needs now and in the future.

AJ Huff, public relations coordinator at Butler Tech, said the school works closely with dozens on businesses to ensure its students are provided job shadowing opportunities, manufacturing tours, apprentice days and roundtable discussions with a 36-member business advisory board.

It’s all about matching students with their passion, Huff said. College isn’t the answer for every student, she said.

“The perception is changing,” she said.

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In the last few years, Ohio has changed its funding model to encourage completion. Colleges that are able to graduate more students now receive more state financial support.

Among other efforts, the state has tried to bolster completion by encouraging students to take College Credit Plus courses, which are free for high schoolers to take. College Credit Plus allows students to take college courses to earn credit before graduating from high school.

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