WHEELING - West Virginia's higher education leaders want an additional 16,000 West Virginians to have a college degree or professional certification by 2015 and will push for students starting college to complete their degrees.
West Virginia first lady Joanne Tomblin - also president of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College - was among college presidents signing a "completion agreement" on Jan. 28 at West Virginia Northern Community College.
With the agreement, the presidents of the state's 10 community colleges promise to push the issue of college completion during the next four years.
Tomblin also watched as the presidents of WVNCC and West Liberty University signed an "articulation agreement," which permits WVNCC graduates with associate degrees to transfer to WLU as juniors to complete their work toward a bachelor's degree.
"Gov. (Earl Ray) Tomblin has set education as one of his priorities, and as first lady - and a community college president for 11 years - education continues to be a priority for me," she said.
"And why would we make such a commitment? The United States once led the world in the number of degrees awarded to individuals - particularly between the ages of 25 and 34. Today the United States ranks 12th among industrialized nations of the world. At the current pace, we will rank last in 2020."
And the percentage of West Virginians completing their college degrees is 28 percent, compared to 41 percent nationally, according to Tomblin. This must be improved if the state and the nation are to make themselves attractive to potential investment and jobs, she continued.
"College completion has now become a priority for educators and policymakers across the nation," she continued. "Employers need a trained and educated work force to meet their needs."
Tomblin said that while serving as first lady, she will continue to serve as a community college president.
"It's a passion for me," she said. "And my role of first lady is equally as important. I have good people working on both ends. I go where I have to be. I just believe education is so extremely important."
Tomblin noted that Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, has been "a role model" for her. Jill Biden leaves the vice president's home each day to work as an adjunct professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College in the Washington, D.C., area. She has 30 years of experience in education.
The two plan to meet soon to discuss their lives as political wives and educators.
"I figured if she can do it, I can do it, too," Tomblin said of Biden.