By Tom Ehrich

The most motivated students I ever taught attended evening classes at Forsyth Technical Community College, in Winston-Salem, part of the state’s extraordinary community college system.

I taught computer software to men and women, ages 22 to 62, who needed software skills in order to find or retain employment. They came early, stayed late, worked hard, and peppered me with questions.

When my wife took a course at Durham Tech, her teacher said the same. She taught at Duke University and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, both higher on the academic food chain, but her favorite was Durham Tech. She found the students bright, mature and motivated.

We’re starting to hear an alarm go up: despite high levels of college attendance, the American workforce lacks the skills to do something like assemble an iPhone. This came out last week in an important study by The Times of why Apple, once a Made in America company, has shipped nearly all of its manufacturing overseas. Cheaper labor, yes. More compliant government, yes. But the decisive factor was skills.

Just as we have made a god of being thin, so have we made a god of having a college degree. I’m all for education, and I believe in the liberal arts ideal of learning for the sake of learning. But there must be a balance. Our people need jobs, jobs won’t come without skills, and skills don’t come without effort and attention to what the marketplace needs.

So, hats off to community colleges and trade schools. Hats doubly off to motivated students who shrug off our current fog of entitlement and equip themselves for meaningful employment.