Our high schools are telling our teenagers that they must plan to leave West Virginia after high school or college because our elected leaders aren't going to do what it takes to give our youth a fighting chance to succeed here. You must stop wringing your hands and clucking about Governor Jim Justice's plan to make Woody Thrasher richer and come up with a plan of your own. You can't fix West Virginia's economy without spending some money. I'm sorry that previous governors and previous legislatures have neglected economic development for decades leaving you with an economic and population emergency but that's what you signed up for when you ran for your seat as a de facto Economic Development Chief. Now do your job. You should have already had an economic plan when you filed for office.
Below, is my plan. Don't criticize my plan if you don't have one.
1. Make the Promise Scholarship a STEM scholarship. Companies won’t come here for our English majors, political science majors and communications majors, but they will come here to gain access to our mathematicians, software engineers, chemists and other STEM grads if we produce them in large numbers.
2. Require Promise Scholarship recipients to sign a contract with West Virginia obligating them to stay in West Virginia for, say, 5 years after graduation. Too many of West Virginia’s college grads are leaving with their degrees and making some other state’s workforce magnetic to outside investment. If they give us five years, they’ll marry, have children, build houses, make friends. Most will never leave. Maybe along the way they’ll invent things and, who knows, maybe some of them will start the next Apple or the next Google.
3. Expand the Promise Scholarship to fund tens of thousands of students’ annually instead of the current 3,000 to 3,500 annually. At its current size, the Promise Scholarship is the right medicine in a dosage insufficient to heal the West Virginia economy.
4. Double the per-student annual scholarship award from its current $4,750 to around $9,000 or $10,000 so students can carry full loads and finish in 4 years.
5. Pay the college debt of STEM grads who want to come to West Virginia and are willing to sign a contract requiring them to become part of West Virginia’s workforce for at least five years.
6. Pay for the above with a severance tax, an excise tax or the proceeds from the state lottery or some combination of the aforementioned.
About Joseph Higginbotham:Joseph Higginbotham is a former member of the West Virginia Region III Workforce Investment Board, a former executive and technical search consultant, a former general manager and a former columnist and writer for newspapers, magazines and journals such as Business Lexington, Rx HomeCare, Leadership, Drug Store News, Campus Career Counselor, Home Health Care Dealer and more. Higginbotham has spoken professionally at over 40 venues, served as an “expert panelist” at jobseeker workshops and a guest on numerous talk radio shows.
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