Backwards planning is one method teachers and educators use to teach students. The central idea is to look at the standards and outcomes and implement various strategies to reach them.

If we are to achieve our economic development goals, governmental leaders need to engage in some backwards planning of our own. In Tennessee, it is projected that by 2018 over 50 percent of new jobs will require some post-secondary education. Currently, only one third of Tennesseans have college degrees. There is a huge jobs gap resulting from low college attainment, and policymakers must address this crisis.

In his visit to Tennessee last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan highlighted some of these serious concerns. While Duncan talked about education as an investment, we should add “jobs incubator” to that description. When we fail to educate our kids, our incubator runs dry. He stressed the staggering fact that over 16,000 Tennessee high school students drop out every year, meaning the state is losing 16,000 jobs right off the bat every year because we are not even preparing those students for high school graduation.

We have taken bold action to push for more college graduates. Under the leadership of former Governor Phil Bredesen, I cosponsored the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, working across partisan lines with Sen. Jamie Woodson and others. In large measure, the Tennessee legislature and representatives from higher education were using “backwards planning” as a tactic to address our education crisis. It was evident years ago that the state faced a major college attainment problem, and we set out to fix it.

Every advance we make has an immediate effect. Last year in Hamilton County, 49 percent of students attended Chattanooga State Community College. The Complete College Tennessee Act encourages more graduation and paves the way for a smoother transition to a four-year institution. As we seek to recruit new employers to Tennessee and encourage our current businesses to expand here, we must show them we have the human capital capacity to meet their needs.

Tennessee’s current unemployment rate is 9.8 percent. Already higher than the national average, the rate has inched up each of the past four months. We know that our goal is to find a way to expand opportunity and jobs around the state; together, we can continue to backwards plan our way to a better future.