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progress by degrees: the northeast ohio talent dividend initiative

NOCHE Executive Director, Ann H. Womer Benjamin- Photo Bob Perkoski
NOCHE Executive Director, Ann H. Womer Benjamin- Photo Bob Perkoski

939,116 and counting
What if cities provided mechanisms and programs that made college a reality -- or at least a possibility -- for anyone who wanted a higher education? What if cities focused attention and resources on getting a college degree, a clear driver of economic success?
Northeast Ohio consists of 16 counties, 4.1 million residents, 225,000 degree-seeking students, and 160,000 businesses. As a region we are fortunate to have NOCHE, the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education, leading our regional efforts to increase college attainment levels. Their efforts are aptly called "The Northeast Ohio Talent Dividend, Progress by Degrees."
The Northeast Ohio Talent Dividend initiative has three primary goals: improve college readiness of high school and adult students, increase student retention to degree completion, and increase degree attainment among adults with some college experience but no degree. NOCHE's ultimate goal is to reach one million college degree holders by 2014.
According to NOCHE's most recent annual report, increasing postsecondary attainment levels by a single percentage point results in an increase in personal income across our region by as much as $2.8 billion. As of 2010, our 16-county region had roughly 939,116 degree holders. That figure reflects a net increase of 41,634 college degree holders, or a 1.4 percent increase in the regional college attainment rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, that correlates to a per capita income increase of $1,169, or a $4 billion boost in total personal income.
Profiles in commitment

Here are the stories of three remarkable young people -- recent graduates of Northeast Ohio colleges -- who illustrate the power of a college degree. But more than that, they exemplify the new generation of young professionals who are choosing to live and work in the region after graduation.
Hands-on learning: the story of one optimistic new grad

Trevor Carlson graduated from Cleveland State University last December with a degree in Human Resources and Labor Relations. While still in school, he interned at Lean Dog Software Studio and was offered a job even before graduation. Now, according to his bio on the Lean Dog website, Carlson “spends his day as the people person, recruiting new employees and placing them. When not working with people you can find him working on learning and development, developing new strategies for classes or organizing and implementing classes that are offered.”

Carlson graduated in three years at 28 years old, and he got married during his junior year at CSU. It can be challenging for some people who are working full-time to finish college as the distractions of everyday life can interfere with study, focus, and school projects. Carlson isn’t the average student though; he’s a self-proclaimed lifelong learner and is already thinking about a master’s degree in Human Resources or Operations.

But experience, in his opinion, is more important than a degree, and he feels that most young college graduates need more hands-on learning before really jumping into the workforce.

Like many of his classmates, he worked his way through school, and feels that the number of commuter students coupled with the fact that most students are working and going to school creates a really positive learning environment.

Carlson would have left Ohio after graduation, but Lean Dog was a job offer he didn’t want to pass up. “My hope is that other employers in Northeast Ohio give brand-new college graduates a chance, because sometimes the best ideas come from those wide-eyed, motivated, optimistic new grads and not from think tanks,” he says.

Lean Dog hires new graduates and even offers an apprenticeship program for new developers. Carlson described the “idealism and the breath of fresh air breathed into a company from a new grad, and the chance for the staff to refine their skills as they get the chance to mentor a new hire.” He wonders why large and small companies don’t all hire “fresh college grads” right away, while bemoaning practices like “resume mirroring,” with the hope of making it past the first round of interviews.

“When you graduate from college, you’re ready to do your job [as it existed] 10 years ago,” Carlson says. He clarified by saying that he didn’t mean that one is not prepared with a college degree, but that there's invaluable on-the-job training and experiential learning that happens once you start your first job.

“It’s vitally important to get an education, to keep learning, and to keep talent right here in Northeast Ohio,” Carlson says.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Hard work pays dividends, on and off the field
Chris Sabo graduated from Hiram College a little less than a year ago with a Communications degree. But that was only the start of his personal adventure.
Sabo, who grew up in Akron, chose Hiram College for the strong academics, size of the school, personal relationships with professors, and, most important, because he wanted to get the best education he could. And like many students who go to school an hour from home, he felt “It was just far enough away to come home for the weekend to see friends and family and get a home cooked meal.”
On a campus of 1,200 students, people really get to know one another in ways not possible at larger schools. A multi-sport athlete -- Sabo played varsity football, club rugby, and managed the softball facilities -- he boasted of friends both on and off the field.
Sabo's participation on and off those fields continues to pay dividends. Following graduation from Hiram, he received a graduate assistantship in the football program at the University of Akron. His work in video operations while going to class full-time is getting his post-graduate degree paid in full.
But it gets better: When he graduates from U of A he will be off to film school thanks to a scholarship he received through the NCAA. That reward comes as a result of his time spent as a varsity student athlete at Hiram.
There's no telling where Sabo, a passionate Akronite, Hiram graduate, and soon-to-be University of Akron grad, will ultimately land. He hopes to launch a video business that specializes in video highlights for student-athletes and their families. He described Northeast Ohio – a hotbed for high school athletics – as the perfect location for that business. He ticks off a dozen famous football players, including Beanie Wells, Antoine Winfield, Tyrell Sutton, and Mario Manningham, who all call Ohio home.
“I want my kids to grow up here," Sabo says.

Endless work ethic: the story of one determined student

Meet Nikoleta Lukic, who just graduated last year from Cleveland State University and started her first job with Hyland Software. For her, it is more than a job: it was her dream.
Lukic's strength, commitment and determination not only earned her a college degree, but also a full-time job at the company where she most wanted to work. Now, she has no plans to leave the region.
Lukic grew up in Parma, moved to North Royalton when she was 10, and graduated from North Royalton High School in 2008. During her senior year she also went to Cuyahoga Valley Career Center to take part in their Marketing Technology program. In essence, she was preparing for college before she ever set foot on campus.

To pay for college, Lukic worked nights and weekends at a restaurant while going to school in the morning, on weekends, and during the summer. Despite that workload, she still managed to graduate in three and a half years – without any lingering student loans to pay back.
How did she do it?

“I managed my time well and stayed very organized to get through my day successfully,” she says.

As a working student living at home, Lukic is an example of somebody who made a commitment to both her college education and job, and she kept her commitments to both. She is not alone: There are countless students like her across the nation who pay their way through school with either a full- or part-time job. But most are forced to extend their schooling beyond four years.

“It seemed that everyone worked [at CSU]," she says. But that was an enrichment, she notes, not a disadvantage. “We had these different experiences and stories to share with one another, and we continue to all keep in touch.”

Lukic has been interning with Westlake-based Hyland since her last semester at CSU. Her hard work, passion and zest for life seemed to have earned her a full-time job.
“I’ve learned what I’m truly good at since I started at Hyland,” she says. “They have taught me so much, challenged me to discover strengths I didn’t know I had. I’m stronger, wiser, and I have no reason to ever leave.”

Lukic's strength, commitment and determination earned her a college degree and a full-time job in Cleveland. And she has no plans to leave the region.

“Growing up here has made me who I am," she explains. "I was given so much, had so many opportunities, and I plan to stay to give back to the place that made me.”
“[Cleveland has] so many different people, cultures, and areas you can visit to experience the variety of cultures," says the Serbian-American. "As you know, the Serbian community is huge here, and we are very close!

Learn more about NOCHE’s work on the National Talent Dividend.
Learn more about the great work other cities are doing to support higher education as part of the National Talent Dividend.

Photos Bob Perkoski
- Image 1: NOCHE Executive Director, Ann H. Womer Benjamin
- Images 2 & 3: Trevor Carlson, Cleveland State graduate 
- Image 4: Lean Dog Studios

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