• Trends show us clearly that we must focus now on schools and colleges

Demographic change, and change in general, are expected realities in 21st- century


Data from the 2000 census and related information reveal dramatic shifts in our communities and portend others that will take place in the next 25 to 50 years.

Our country's population is growing dramatically and is projected to be close to 324 million by 2025. By 2050, the nation's population may reach close to 400 million.

As our population continues to grow, we note several interesting trends:

First, the population is aging dramatically, and the 75 million baby boomers who have had such an impact in recent decades will continue to have a dramatic impact on the work force and on the communities where they live.

Second, our country is becoming more diverse, not only in the four big states of New York, California, Florida and Texas but throughout the entire nation.

These trends are reflected in Oregon, where we face the tremendous challenges of replacing an aging work force and accommodating a growing and increasingly diverse population, especially in the Portland area.

With challenges, there are always opportunities. Long-term opportunities may have a long gestation period. The seeds we plant today will reap benefits in the next 20 to 40 years. We already know that the children now in elementary schools will be the work force of the future. Again, we know this is a more diverse population, and we know where they live. We must plan now for their education.

For Oregon to grow and prosper as a state, the K-16 public education system must be seen as the key component of the economy, one that will drive the education and training of a globally competitive work force.

In addition, it is critically important that strategic alliances among the business community, educational institutions, government and the community be created and/or strengthened, and that the old mentality of 'everyone's on their own' be abandoned. With limited resources, we must improve the coordination and delivery of programs and services through these alliances to develop a reasoned system and plan accordingly.

Community colleges are a vital part of the public K-16 continuum. While serving their communities, these colleges also have a national network of educational partners that play an important role in transferring individuals to our four-year schools, as well as training and retraining the local work force as the demand and needs are identified.

Let me re-emphasize, and I cannot do this enough, that the key to Oregon's future is the public K-16 education system. If we are to move forward in a rational manner, we must do so as an entire system of education that provides the appropriate programs and services that are funded appropriately. To ignore the education of our most important resource Ñ our people Ñ is a serious mistake.

If we do not plan toward our future, we will end up stumbling forward out of inertia. It is in our best interest to realize that we as a state, and as a mix of communities, know that our greatest resource, our human capital, must be developed. Preparing our citizens to become educated members of our local community fabric and participants in the work force is our vehicle to a bright future.

Jesus 'Jess' Carreon is president of Portland Community College. PCC is the state's largest post-secondary institution, enrolling approximately 100,000 full- and part-time students annually.

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