Setting sights on post-secondary education options

Many pathways lead to successful careers, most need some further education after high school

By Gwen Soderberg-Chase

Part of our mission at Douglas County Partners for Student Success is to help put every county child on the path to success through these basic achievements: graduating from high school, completing post-secondary education and/or entering a career.

The first and last of these are clear enough. But what do we mean by post-secondary education? The answer is: more than you might imagine.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, DCPSS is a network of community leaders who want to take some of the mystery out of the many different ways all children can prepare for rewarding, well-compensated careers. We believe these attainable goals will result not only in individual student success, but also greater vitality for our entire and widespread county.

In the last several decades, post-secondary education has often had one definition in the minds of forward-thinking parents and students. It’s been assumed that a four-year degree at a college or university is the only way to secure a stable future in a competitive job market. Particularly in recent years, this college-for-all philosophy has led to a surplus in university graduates with crippling debt from student loans and dwindling job prospects.

Consider this: A video called “Success in the New Economy” released by Citrus College in California cites statistics from Harvard University that predict by 2018, only 33 percent of all jobs will require education of a four-year degree or more. The majority of jobs, 57 percent, will require credentials and training at the associate degree level.

In addition, the video asserts the job market will follow a 1:2:7 ratio. For every occupation requiring a master’s degree, two occupations will require a university degree and seven will require a one-year certificate or two-year degree.

Our economy is changing. The labor market needs highly skilled technicians with appropriate training, rather than college graduates pursuing a degree and hoping for the best. And that brings us back to exploring other facets of post-secondary education.

Students with the best chances for bright futures are those who can define their talents and strengths, then analyze the labor market and plug those skills into the jobs most in demand. They can then research what’s required for those careers and choose the most suitable training.

Let’s take City Hall as an example. In Roseburg, City Manager Lance Colley has identified several well-paying jobs that don’t require four-year degrees. Police officers, firefighters, public works technicians, parks maintenance workers, accounts payable and receivable clerks, secretaries and some administrative assistants are examples of entry-level positions open to high school graduates. Applicants for certain jobs may have a leg up if they’ve taken related courses – horticulture or science for parks maintenance, for example. In other cases, certificates and continuing education can be completed on the job.

Some high school courses can make job applicants stand out. Beyond high school graduation, education and training can take many forms. Besides community college associate degrees, there are vocational and trade school certificates, online courses from employer-approved programs, internships, apprenticeships and military service.

Having a variety of options for post-secondary education is reassuring, because it means you don’t have to assume there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to preparing for the workforce. But it requires action. What path, aligned with a student’s skills and interests, is most likely to lead to a job with a dynamic future?

We at DCPSS are working to help Douglas County students find those answers. Visit us at to find out more and join our campaign to change attitudes toward post-secondary education. Education Matters: Your Choice, Your Future. Act Now.

Gwen Soderberg-Chase is the Project Coordinator for the Douglas County Partners for Student Success.She grew up in Douglas County and graduated from South Umpqua High School. She attended the University of Oregon for post-secondary education. She returned to Douglas County and worked as a teacher and Director of Educational Services for the Roseburg Public Schools until 2011 and has worked at UCC and in the nonprofit sector since. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley, Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center and SMART.