Another holiday season of enjoying time with family and friends has come and gone — this one ushering in a new decade with new opportunities to improve and grow. Enrollment has been up during the past four years at Walters State Community College, where faculty, staff and a lot of community supporters are working to continue that trend well into the 2020s.

Tennessee, with its pioneering model for tuition-free higher education, has become a national leader in making the argument that college is for everyone. And when more people go to college, there is undeniably greater potential for everyone to benefit.

There are many local examples of how that potential has expanded during the previous decade. One area of recognized growth is in the manufacturing sector. Personal Finance technology company SmartAsset recently ranked Morristown the 6th best place in the country to work in manufacturing.

The report notes that manufacturing jobs in the area are up 12.7%, with 12,000 people — roughly one-third of the workforce — employed in manufacturing.

While many of those jobs may not require a college degree, employees and employers depend on higher education for things such as job training and certification.

Walters State offers workforce training for area employers and employees through both credit and noncredit courses.

One of our newest dual enrollment programs — where students can earn college credit or degrees while still attending high school — is in manufacturing focusing on electrical engineering technology.

Manufacturing trends affecting workforce demands are partly behind the expansion of dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to get a jump on a college education.

A Dec. 9 article in The Wall Street Journal titled, “American Factories Demand White-Collar Education for Blue-Collar Work,” estimates that manufacturers will, within the next three years, employ more college graduates than workers with a high school education or less.

“Employment in manufacturing jobs that require the most complex problem-solving skills, such as industrial engineers, grew 10% between 2012 and 2018,” the article says. “Jobs requiring the least (complex problem-solving skills) declined 3%.”

While higher education is helping to satisfy growth trends and qualification demands in manufacturing, college has long been the best pathway to improved living standards by providing higher earning capacity and lower potential for unemployment.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a 2018 study, reports significant increases in average weekly earnings at each stage as education degrees progress from less than a high school diploma up the ladder to professional degrees.

In addition to economic well-being, higher education contributes to practical benefits in areas such as health, civic involvement, personal development, communication skills, and senses of discipline and accomplishment.

Our official mission and dedication at Walters State is to increase educational attainment and support development “by providing affordable, high quality educational opportunities.”

As we head into the 2020s to begin another semester of classes, we are working harder than ever toward continued growth in our enrollment numbers as well as local employment trends.

Because we know without a doubt that “college is for everyone.”

-Dr. Tony Miksa is president of Walters State Community College.