IT IS natural that most people would say the biggest stories of the summer in northwest Ohio will be the record cost of gasoline, the changing job market, and the intrigue of the sizzling presidential election competition.
However, I believe there is another and more positive story with a deep impact on our lives and economic future here in rural Ohio. Together, we can make this a summer of celebration focused on establishing college attainment as the economic engine for our families, communities, and for our regional economic vitality.
This could be the summer that parents, community leaders, government leaders, and the media fully accept that we all share the responsibility to change a mindset that lingers from our better economic days back in the 1990s. Yes, those were the good old days when strong backs, work ethic, and determination mixed with just a high school education were enough to make a good life and a sustainable career. Those days are gone.
In today's changing job market, workers in Archbold, Napoleon, Defiance, Bryan, and every town or city in our region need superior technology and comunication skills. We need to work with each other in a team setting, and the entire work force requires diverse skills that are far different than 10 years ago.
How will our families and others pay for high gasoline prices if salaries don't increase and are not in step with many changes?
For instance, did you know that individuals earning a community college education make about 38 percent more in annual income than individuals with only a high school diploma?
If the financial condition of our families and our region isn't stabilized, where will the money come from to cover future school levies, road and bridge repair, and police protection from a shrinking tax base?
This is a positive story because we all have a wonderful opportunity to turn the corner and work together to influence our adults, especially the core 18 to 39-year-old individuals, both male and female, who really need new training and education. Can you suggest college opportunities right now to just one person in your family, your community, or from your neighborhood?
We talk passionately about building bridges and helping others. The best thing you can do for young adults is encourage them to take the first steps into college education. You can be that bridge merely by offering your valuable time and encouragement.
Our recent 38th commencement at Northwest State Community College proved a shift in the mindset is taking on new momentum. We had a record 435 graduates, at least 100 more than we have ever had in our nearly 40-year history, and the newest graduates truly understand the value of a community college "bridge" to better days.
When you think of plastics and engineering graduate Tom Trejo from Archbold coming back to college in his 40s, and graduating with honors, it's all about determination, pride, and joy. It's also about "he got the job" and a nice new promotion from SK Technologies, based in Montpelier.
It was also a pleasure meeting honor student and new graduate George Mast, his wife, and their four-day-old son on commencement day.
George worked full time and went to school full time while he was earning his engineering and technology degree and has a good job at LaFarge International in Paulding County.
His wife got her basic studies completed at Northwest State and transferred her NSCC courses to Bowling Green State University, then went on to a master's degree at Defiance College. She's a teacher in the Defiance public school system. Can you see the correlation to the bridges built and doors that opened to financial strength for the Mast family?
There is absolute pride and joy in these local stories. They are success stories of your neighbors, friends, and co-workers that if multiplied hundreds of times, our region will again thrive economically.
The data are clear: Regions of the state and the world that will thrive in the future will be determined by the education and training qualities of the work force.
We are blessed here in northwest Ohio with a wonderful quality of life, but without hundreds of more highly trained workers, our economic future is in peril.
Let's make the summer of 2008 one to remember way beyond the pain at the pump, the presidential campaign battles, and our cherished times together to enjoy the sunshine and family gatherings.
Please take a few minutes this week to talk with just one person about what more education could do for him or her, and for our region, if they started college classes this summer.
Tom Stuckey, president of Northwest State Community College since 2007, lives in Williams County. He grew up in West Unity and graduated from Hilltop High School. He holds a bachelor's from Goshen College in Indiana, and a master's and doctorate from Bowling Green State University.