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Q&A: Burris connects the dots between education and workforce development

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Kris Burris sees the Greenwood Promise as playing a pivotal role in the development of the future workforce. She became director of the scholarship program in October 2016 and brings with her 15 years of nonprofit management experience.

The Greenwood Promise is an initiative to help Greenwood County high school graduates with postsecondary tuition assistance. It is available for students whose primary residences are zoned within Greenwood County School Districts 50, 51 and 52.

GSA Business Report reached out to Burris to get her thoughts on education and the workforce, as well as how her own experiences can provide encouragement for students and their families.

GSA: Your work history shows a commitment to helping people. How and when did you decide you wanted to be an advocate for personal and professional growth?

Kris Burris (Photo/Provided)Burris: Interestingly, I am not sure I ever made a conscious decision to be an advocate for personal and professional growth. While growing up, I witnessed a love for serving others modeled within my home.  As such, I was encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities at school and in the community.  However, my decision to major in psychology and become a counselor was shaped during my time in college. 

Since entering the workforce full time in 2002, I have worked with adult victims of sexual violence and child victims of abuse; first-generation college students who reside in low-income households and/or have documented disabilities; and now, students hoping to attend institutions of higher education. In all these roles, I think my success stems from my belief that people possess what they need to be successful, especially when given the support and resources needed to reach their fullest potential.     

GSA: You are a first-generation college student; how do you see your experience being helpful in the role you have now with the Greenwood Promise?

Burris: Often, first-generation college students experience difficulty in adjusting to a college environment. And, they tend to find it difficult to identify and access student support services available on campus. As a first-generation college student myself, I hope students and their families find encouragement in my story. I hope they will see the positive outcomes my story reflects, such as an increased competitiveness within the workforce, increased earning potential and an overall improved quality of life. In addition, I hope I can act as an advocate for students and connect them to available resources as needed. 

GSA: How have you seen education directly impact the workforce?

Burris: The requirements for positions advertised by businesses and companies are ever-changing. And with these changes, the level of education needed to secure employment has changed. Numerous studies show that between 2020 and 2025, more than 60-65% of all new jobs will require some postsecondary education. In addition, research indicates that between 1989 and 2012, the number of new jobs for those with a bachelor’s degree increased by 82% and those jobs requiring some college or an associate degree grew by 41%. Conversely, during that same time frame, a 14% decline was documented in the number of jobs available for high school graduates or high school dropouts. 

It is important to note the correlation between postsecondary education and one’s ability to gain a more meaningful and rewarding career. But it is also vital to have a well-educated and highly-trained workforce that can meet the needs of local employers, both now and in the future.

By providing a tuition-free path to a college education, the Greenwood Promise aims to positively impact areas such as high school retention and graduation rates, postsecondary education attainment, and workforce development.   

GSA: What are the keys to achieving academic and professional success?

Burris: The path to achieving academic and professional success will never be the same for everyone.  However, several key factors that can positively impact success include:

  • Higher education as the next step:  It is important to remove “option” from discussions surrounding college education.  With the growing need for college education as a requirement for employment opportunities, students will benefit from recognizing college as their next step after high school.
  • Extracurricular activities: Participation in extracurricular activities at school or within the community can help develop a strong sense of self and community, as well as skills needed to successfully work independently or within a team.
  • Campus visits: Early exposure to college campuses will hopefully decrease anxiety associated with attending college. It will also provide students an opportunity to ask questions and identify important admissions criteria.
  • Financial literacy: Financial literacy is important in learning how to best budget and plan for costs associated with attending college.  Students also need information on how to identify and apply for financial aid and available scholarships.
  • Student support services: Early identification and connection to campus resources during the first few weeks of college enrollment is imperative to a student’s success. Students will benefit from support services such as academic tutoring, academic advising, career services, internships and counseling services.
  • Encouragement and support: Students benefit from positive reinforcement and knowing that others believe in their ability to achieve their goals. This is a message best received from caregivers, teachers and other influential adults. 

Thankfully, the Greenwood Promise recognizes these factors as important and will work diligently to be a positive resource for students and their families.  

GSA: What do you see as road blocks for tomorrow’s workforce? What needs to change, if anything, so that there aren’t barriers for today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders?

Burris: The cost of postsecondary education is one of the greatest roadblocks for tomorrow’s workforce.  As tuition increases, students find themselves working while in school or accepting student loans to cover expenses. Lack of financial resources often prolongs students’ time in college or forces them to drop out altogether. For Greenwood County students, the Greenwood Promise intends to be a solution to this barrier by covering the remaining balance of tuition and mandatory fees after federal and state grants and scholarships have been awarded. But, more than this, the Greenwood Promise aims to foster a community actively engaged in education. The only way to ensure a highly-skilled workforce is to make certain that students have access to institutions offering courses of study that meet the growing needs of businesses and industries.  

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 720-1223.

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