Seeing Value In Education

Here are four tidbits of information. See if you can spot what’s wrong with the picture they form:

1. West Virginia has the lowest education attainment rate in the nation.

2. Throughout the nation, just 40 percent of people responding to a Pew Research Center survey said higher education is worth the cost.

3. Employers in West Virginia say they have about 20,000 jobs they can’t fill because they can’t find suitably educated applicants.

4. Our state also has the lowest workforce participation rate in the country.

Congratulations. You got it right. Here in the Mountain State, we seem to have very low regard for what we need most to improve our personal lives and our state: higher education.

And, to judge by that Pew Research study, many of our fellow Americans don’t see the value in training beyond high school, either.

Much of the information above was lifted from West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee’s State of the University address, delivered last week.

Now, I don’t have room to go into everything Gee said, but suffice to say, he seems to get it. His mantra — embrace change — is just what WVU and West Virginia as a state need.

WVU never has been one of those ivory tower institutions, seemingly as concerned with ensuring the ivy grows on its buildings as with preparing young people for bright, productive careers. Our state university serves West Virginia in many ways other than higher education.

In health care and research, for example, WVU is helping us live longer, more pleasant lives while serving as an economic development driver.

But education remains both WVU’s basic mission and West Virginia’s greatest need.

We need to do better. That will require flexibility and responsiveness of the type Gee seems to champion.

It also will require helping Mountain State residents understand better why education is not just important, but vital to our future. That means those beautiful children and grandchildren for whom we all want only the very best.

How does WVU accomplish that? If I had the answer, Gee might be stepping aside for me.

Affordable, quality education at all levels is part of the equation. A sea change in attitudes among many West Virginians who, for decades, could get good jobs without college is another.

Here’s hoping we can make that happen.

Myer can be reached at: