Education in the State House: How Legislators Can Spread Economic Opportunity this Session
Whether it is spoken in a political campaign speech, an advocate’s call to action, or a tired voice heard on a street corner, “Maryland needs jobs” is one of the most common and urgent refrains brought up in the conversation about economic stimulation.
Fortunately, Maryland may have two-million dollars of money for workforce development scholarships coming its way if members of the Senate pass bill SB38.
Introduced by Senator Katherine Klausmeier, this bill has the potential to give career opportunities to those for whom the escalating costs of education have been a major roadblock.
In today’s competitive job climate, higher education can be the key to obtaining a liveable wage. It’s no wonder that students across the U.S. are pursuing degrees and certificates, despite the fact that “student loan debt” is becoming synonymous with “college educated.”
Today, Americans owe a collective one-trillion dollars in unpaid student loans, an amount which continues to increase by $3,000 every second.
A recent study of 1,000 active job seekers in the Baltimore region found that 49% of respondents felt that the cost of obtaining necessary training or education for employment was out of reach. The same study concluded that a lack of skills was one of the most prominent and difficult obstacles on the pathway to gainful employment in Maryland.
When it comes to education, workforce development programs are often the most accessible and effective option for many job seekers in Maryland and beyond. They tend to cost less than full degree programs and are intended to launch students directly into jobs that provide a liveable wage. They do not earn the student a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree, but they do provide short term career readiness and skill training to fast track them into gainful employment.
Unfortunately the costs of workforce training, while less than a full college degree, remain out of reach for many students. The state and federal governments have been able to provide some scholarship money to students on traditional for-credit degree tracks, there is very little assistance available to those pursuing short term job readiness training due to the short length of the programs.
So what can concerned lawmakers do to make education, and thereby a living wage, an achievable aspiration for low-income men and women across the state? Bill SB38 might be answer to that question.
The bill would work like this: each year the governor would commit two-million dollars of the annual budget to community colleges’ workforce certificate programs. These institutions would have to distribute the dollars as scholarships to students based on financial need. Students who would otherwise not be able to pursue such an education would be given the means to skill-based training and eventual employment.
While the costs of higher education continue to rise and the debt burden weighs heavily on students’ shoulders, this bill could be a glimmer of hope to those for whom higher education is currently a far off dream with a gigantic price tag.
As Dr. Sandra L. Kurtinitis from the Community College of Baltimore County stated in her testimony for the legislation, this bill is about granting “access and success” to students all across the state. This is an excellent opportunity to do something meaningful for the men and women of Maryland who need a leg up and into gainful employment.