Momentum 2022 is a holistic development plan for Topeka that emphasizes quality of life, economic growth, civic engagement and education.
In many ways, the last item on that list is the most important — education gives workers the skills they need to secure better jobs, which benefits employers and the entire community by increasing economic output, reducing poverty and enlarging the tax base. It’s also a gateway to financial security and job satisfaction — in the 21st century, workers who lack the proper training will find themselves competing for a vanishing set of low-skill, low-salary jobs.
As the city focuses on attracting businesses and new residents, the East Topeka Learning Center will be a valuable resource for the cultivation of talent we already have. Although the site of the learning center is still an abandoned Army reserve building, the project is already underway and classes are expected to be available in January 2019. These classes will offer training in lucrative, in-demand fields like construction and health care technology — sectors of the economy that increasingly reward postsecondary skills and certifications. The center will also provide adult literacy courses, along with GED preparation and testing — resources that underpin any attempt to pursue postsecondary education.
A local market study will be conducted this fall to determine what skills employers are asking for and which courses prospective students are interested in taking.
Washburn University, GO Topeka and the Joint Economic Development Organization are the entities behind the learning center. Clark Coco is the dean of the Washburn Institute of Technology, and he explains the importance of making postsecondary education more accessible: “Industry is saying it’s going to get much, much harder to come directly out of high school and go to work. They’re going to need some post-secondary (education) of some type.” The data support this observation — a 2015 study released by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that 71 percent of Kansas jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020.
The same Georgetown study found that 65 percent of all the jobs in the U.S. economy will require postsecondary training by 2020. It also reported that the U.S. would “fall 5 million short of the workers with postsecondary credentials we will need by 2020” if the proportion of Americans pursuing higher education didn’t increase. While the cost of higher education continues to outstrip inflation, there’s no denying the surging value of postsecondary credentials in our economy.
GO Topeka reports that there are 11,000 working adults in Shawnee County who don’t hold a GED. This is a severe impediment because a high-school degree/GED is a prerequisite for postsecondary advancement, as are the literacy skills that Topekans will be able to develop at the learning center. About 25 percent of Topeka’s GED candidates live on the east end of the city, and the learning center (which is expected to accommodate 400 students per year) will be established near their homes. GO Topeka is seeking $1 million in federal “new market tax credits,” which are allocated to attract private investment in low-income communities — just like East Topeka.
By identifying the need to improve rates of postsecondary attainment — particularly among low-income Topekans — city officials are making our economy stronger and more inclusive.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.