Note: WGU North Carolina is proud to be a co-sponsor of the NC Chamber’s Education & Workforce Conference on Aug. 13
As North Carolina’s economy continues to grow (despite setbacks caused by COVID-19), the majority of new jobs will require an education beyond a high school diploma. However, less than half of North Carolinians ages 25-44 have high-quality credentials or postsecondary degrees.
According to MyFutureNC, North Carolina needs to graduate or attract two million individuals with postsecondary degrees by 2030 to meet projected job growth.
That’s 400,000 more highly trained and skilled individuals than our current trajectory provides, a figure that cannot be achieved through migration alone. It can only be achieved through higher postsecondary graduation rates of North Carolinians.
As many current and future jobs will require individuals with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees, it is incumbent upon our school districts and postsecondary institutions to engage more students in those fields and set them up for successful careers.
Interest in math and science is often inspired during a child’s formative years, but unfortunately North Carolina has a shortage of math and science teachers, especially in rural areas. A report by the U.S. Department of Education for 2017-2018 showed that North Carolina specifically lacked teachers in the areas of special education, mathematics for grades 6 through 12, and science for grades 6 through 12.
One of the reasons WGU was formed in 1997 was to expand access to high-quality postsecondary education. By all accounts it has succeeded beyond expectation. As of August 2020, WGU has more than 196,000 alumni nationwide, including 49,000 from the Teachers College (nearly 900 of whom live in North Carolina). WGU’s Teachers College currently has more than 32,000 enrollees nationwide.
WGU is now one of the top producers of K-12 science and math teachers in the country. The Teachers College offers 10 bachelor’s degrees with licensure (including math education, and science education in specialties including physics, biological science, and earth science), five master’s degrees with licensure (including science education and mathematics education), and 15 graduate degrees for licensed teachers (including science education and mathematics education).
Earlier this year, WGU graduate Maureen Stover of Cumberland International Early College High School in Fayetteville was named the 2020 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.
To provide more information for prospective science and math teachers, WGU has created an eBook titled “What is STEM Teaching, and is it Right for You?” available as a free download. Content includes such topics as why today’s students need STEM, approaches to teaching STEM, and what makes a teacher good at teaching STEM principles.
WGU’s blog is also a great resource for prospective teachers and includes articles on topics such as “How to become a science teacher.”
Resources for STEM teachers in North Carolina include the North Carolina Science Teachers Association, North Carolina Science Leadership Association, and the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
If North Carolina can hire and retain more STEM teachers who inspire their students to explore careers in math and science, that will help position our state as a desirable destination for tech employers and entrepreneurs seeking to fill future job openings. North Carolina’s future is bright, but it can be brighter if illuminated by brilliant minds with knowledge and skills in STEM fields.