I recently had the opportunity to attend the Central Ohio Compact.

This is a group of private, public and nonprofit partners committed to a regional strategy with a bold goal: 65% of central Ohioans will have a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2025.

The compact was created to address the current challenge we face; half of all Americans arrive in their mid-20s without the essential credentials and skills for success in the current economy.

During the meeting, held at Columbus State Community College, I was inspired to hear regional leaders discuss how the four-year bachelor's degree has been overplayed.

Our focus on a bachelor's degree instead of the certifications and skills Americans need to move the economy forward has hurt our country and our young people.

Likewise, I was moved as an educator to hear key leaders talk about creating regional prosperity for all our citizens, not just creating a system of economic development.

Kenny McDonald of One Columbus said the central Ohio region would seek growth based on our values, not growth for growth's sake. Another leader said our regional strategic plan needs to be person-centric.

As a career-technical center superintendent, I think I am supposed to be all about preparing young people for the talent pipeline.

I'm sure that focusing on workforce development is supposed to be my primary focus. And, absolutely, skill development to strengthen our economy is of vital importance.

From the mother in me and the educator in me, the bigger question is can we do a fantastic job at skill development for our young people and also keep our students' interests and passions at the center of our educational programming? Can we build educational systems around student engagement and necessary skills?

We are seeking student engagement at Tolles.

We are working hard to create an environment where students see activities as personally meaningful; where their level of interest persists in the face of difficulty; where students find the tasks challenging and worth doing; and where students focus on getting it right, not because the work is dependent on a grade, but because they are invested in the outcome.

I don't think anyone has the market on this, but there are many educators trying to achieve this goal, making decisions that will support economic prosperity for our students and our families and builds on the passions of our young people.

When I was an administrator in the K-12 system, I always was building programming to connect real-world experiences to core academics. Now in the career technical world, I have fallen in love with knowing that what we teach at school helps students find passion, purpose and prosperity. This equals student engagement.

Leaders who have committed to the Central Ohio Compact have committed that "central Ohio will have the most productive education partnership in the nation, fully able to raise education attainment levels and support the region's economic growth strategies."

I am excited that the Tolles Career & Technical Center is a part of this work.

Emmy Beeson is superintendent of Tolles Career & Technical Center, which includes students from the Dublin and Hilliard school districts. Contact her at ebeeson@ tollestech.com.