Ohio Education Officials Unveil Plan For Future Based On Tennessee Model


UPDATED: Tuesday November 13, 2012 6:43 PM

Ohio has 400,000 people who need a job and a 100,000 job openings, and officials said the problem is education.

For example, only 1 of out 4 Ohioans has a college degree, and many others lack the skills for 21st century jobs.

Now, State Chancellor Jim Petro has announced the Complete College Ohio plan to help the state create a more educated workforce in the Next 10 years.

Petro’s inspiration comes from a school in Tennessee.

Nathan Foote is back in school and learning to weld at the Tennessee Technical Center in Nashville.

Ten years ago he was a new college graduate with a degree in sociology.

"There wasn't much of a market for it, so I ended up in retail and that was not where I wanted to be with my life,” said Foote.

That mismatch between college degrees and real-world skills worries Petro.

The Ohio jobs website shows 100,000 jobs available, but Petro says too many graduates have the wrong degrees and even more have no degrees at all.

Fewer than 55 percent of Ohio students who begin college ever get a bachelor's degree. Graduation rates are lower still at community colleges.

Petro said in the job market, a partial education isn't worth much.

"You can't put five semesters of college on your resume,” said Petro.

Petro said the day has come when all Ohioans need a post-secondary education.

With the layoffs of the recent recession, many workers recognize that, and they are returning to school.

“Seventy-five percent of our students are non-traditional. They work. They may have a family. They have obligations beyond going to school. We have to design our curricula to meet the needs of those students,” added Petro.

He's proposing some big changes for Ohio education. 

Many of them are already in place at the Tennessee Technical Center, where 89 percent of all students graduate and get good jobs.

"I like to phrase it as ‘real skills for real jobs.,’" said Mark Lenz, the director of TTC.

The center offers 27 programs, including machining, tool and die making, barbering, and high-tech computer design.

Lenz said what students learn is determined with the help of advisors who work in business and industry.

"They actually are required to review our curriculum to approve it as being applicable to the industry,” added Lenz.

Students take classes in blocks without breaks, so that those who go part time can work their current jobs while they prepare for better ones.

"They require for me to know a little bit about hydraulics, pneumatics, and hydronics, so I'm just trying to keep up with the current trends,” said student William Campbell.

Petro wants Ohio colleges to do the same.

"The whole idea of scheduling in a manner that fits the work schedule of students is critical. They do that in Tennessee. More and more, we'll be doing that in Ohio,” said Petro.

At TTC, students are treated like real workers and are expected to act like them. They clock in and out with a fingerprint. They work in labs set up to look like real shops. They do class work and homework, but also spend one-third of their time learning the importance of good work habits.

Students graduate sooner than in Ohio, in an average of 12 months.

"We were graduating because we'd taken the fluff out of it and we were putting people to work,” said James King, Tennessee Vice Chancellor.

They also earn 30 college credits, which transfer to community colleges and let them earn an associate's degree in one more year. Those credits then transfer to state colleges where students can get a bachelor's degree in two more.

So students don't have to wait for years to be employable.  That's something Petro said Ohio needs.

"We put in place things that drive completion, that keep people in school, we make it easier for them to stay in school, and then we recognize each stage of their completion,” said Petro.

The Tennessee plan that gives Foote a bright future is one Petro wants for Ohio.

"So the sky's the limit from there,” said Foote.

Petro wants to lock in tuition rates when students start college, for all four years.

He's pushing for high schools to offer more advanced placement classes, so students can earn college credit.

He says that could help them graduate college in three years, save money, and get a job sooner.

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