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Friday, Aug 31 2012 11:00 PM

Dealing with educational disparity

By The Bakersfield Californian

A new study lends more statistical weight to a long-assumed deficiency in the Bakersfield economy: chronic shortcomings in local educational attainment levels are holding back this part of California's Central Valley.

A study released by the Brookings Institution this past week finds a huge gap between the education level of the regional workforce and the education required for the average job opening. This translates to higher and more stubborn unemployment. Unemployment rates are 2 percentage points higher in regions like ours than in regions with better educational match-ups and they have remained higher since before the recession, the study found.

According to the report, in January and February of this year, 38 percent of job openings required a bachelor's degree or more education while just 15 percent of the local workforce had that level of education. By contrast, 28 percent of jobs required a high school education or less -- but that's the educational attainment of 54 percent of the local population. That mismatch is costly.

For every unemployed worker, the Bakersfield-Delano market has roughly 10 times more job openings for the highly educated than it has for the less educated, the report said.

What can we do about it? There are efforts afoot to train more local people to fill the available jobs locally but doing so takes years to bear fruit. In the meantime, we can continue to instill in our children the value of higher education, whether it's a top-tier university or a trade school. We can hold educators accountable for underperforming schools and lackadaisical teachers. We can show our appreciation for overachieving schools and inspiring teachers. We can demand that our legislators adequately fund public schools -- while continuing to demand efficiency and excellence.

Education is not just the key to our individual success but also our regional prosperity.

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