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U. report reveals low percentage of graduates

The Center for Women and Work at the School of Management and Labor Relations released a report yesterday, detailing inexpensive policy changes that could improve college completion rates in state agencies and colleges.

Co-author Heather McKay said the “Close, but No Degree” report was inspired by President Barack Obama’s 2009 speech that said all adult Americans would have committed at least one year of higher education or career training, and the country would have one of the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2012.

Forty-four percent of N.J. residents hold a two-year degree, and 1 in 5 have some college education, but the number of those who graduate with a four-year degree is even lower, she said.

McKay said policymakers should identify students who have the potential and the grades to complete college, specifically those who lack 12 credits or less. Policymakers should then provide them with flexible options and support services, such as online learning and counseling.

McKay, director of CWW’s Innovative Training and Workforce Development Research and Programs, said this could be done through better integration of higher education opportunities into the state workforce development system. But N.J. policymakers must make changes to the existing workforce development and higher education systems to address obstacles to college completion for disengaged adult students, she said.

Another option would be improving a 2007 Lampitt Bill to facilitate the transfer of credits from community colleges to four-year college and universities, she said.

McKay said even after the recession began in 2008, New Jersey’s working families are still struggling to gain a foothold in the labor market and to achieve economic stability.

“New Jersey is well-positioned to make this change,” McKay said. “There is a state commitment to this goal, and initiatives and policies are in place that provide a strong foundation for expansion.”

New Jersey fares better than the rest of the country with 18.2 percent of New Jerseyans possess some college but have no degree.

Data from the Working Poor Families Project indicate that in 2010, 193,797 of New Jersey’s working families, or 19.6 percent, were low-income.

Cecilia Grobard said she used the unemployment insurance program’s benefits to complete a bachelor’s degree, graduating from the University in 2004 with high honors.

The unemployment insurance program is one of many state and national programs to provide the unemployed with educational opportunities.

Grobard said she worked in the airline industry for more than 30 years. The industry was what she knew and when she was laid off, her world was turned upside down.

Her two children, Talia and Samuel, were in colleges across the state. With the unemployment insurance, Grobard decided to go back and finish the bachelor’s degree in Italian she started 30 years.

“You are never too old to get an education,” she said. “...I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.”

Correction: The original article incorrectly stated that Cecilia Grobard was fired.

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