by Jamie Merisotis
I was raised in Manchester. My father arrived in Connecticut almost 70 years ago after serving his country in World War II. Although he and my mother never made it to college, they instilled a strong belief in the value of education. Two generations of us – most still living here – have benefited from the state’s public schools, and colleges and universities.
So, as leader of a national foundation focused on increasing Americans’ success in higher education, Connecticut’s success is always on my mind. Last month, Lumina Foundation released its 2017-20 Strategic Plan. The plan describes what must happen for to achieve Goal 2025. Within the next eight years we must reach our goal for 60 percent of working-age Americans to earn college degrees or credentials, effectively creating a universal learning system beyond high school. We need a system that improves people’s lives and enables the nation to meet the rising demand for talent.
Since 2011, the U.S. economy has grown by 11.5 million jobs for workers with more than a high school education. In contrast, only 80,000 jobs have been added for those with a high school diploma or less. This disparity is projected to grow. By 2020, nearly two-thirds of jobs will require more than a high school diploma. Yet almost every state has an average level of education among working-age residents that is too low.
When the Foundation began reporting on the share of people with college degrees eight years ago, Connecticut stood at 46.6 percent. In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, the rate reached 48.2 percent.
This year, Lumina added data about people with certificates and industry certifications. We believe an expanded focus on these credentials is vital for creating a better-educated country. Quality credentials have clearly stated, easy-to-grasp learning outcomes that create paths to good jobs and further education. In Connecticut, one of every 20 working-age residents has these types of certificates, bringing the share of people with meaningful credentials to 53.2 percent.
To reach the national goal of 60 percent by 2025, all of us have to do more to ensure fairer results for students who fare poorly today. The Foundation has been focused over the last several years on both traditional-age students and those who previously have gone to college but never finished. Yet increasingly, we’ve come to recognize that we must do more and better for the nearly 64 million adults with no education beyond high school. This population is mostly made up of people from poorly represented racial and ethnic groups, immigrants with limited English-speaking skills, people who have lost middle-income jobs, and prisoners.
Others are faring better. In Connecticut, whites and Asian/Pacific Islanders with education beyond high school represent 53.6 percent and 71.9 percent of those populations, respectively. Yet for people who are African-American, Hispanic and American Indian, the percentages range from 22.5 percent to 32.8 percent. These numbers mean the system is not serving these learners who desperately need quality credentials to have better lives and jobs.
Eliminating disparities in outcomes across racial and ethnic groups and by socioeconomic status will require civic leaders, education leaders, policymakers, and employers to participate in a large-scale effort to redesign the system. To build tomorrow’s workforce, we must build a system that works for today’s diverse students. In the same way communities banded together to make universal high school a reality, it will take broad, coordinated action to ensure education beyond high school becomes a reality for all Americans.
This movement is underway, led by states setting goals to dramatically increase the number of people with education beyond high school. Connecticut is one of 26 states that set challenging, sustainable, and measurable goals in support of fair outcomes for students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. My hope is that other states will follow Connecticut’s lead to ensure the country has the talented people it needs to address future civic, economic, and social challenges.
Jamie Merisotis is President and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with degrees, certificates and other high-quality credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina’s outcomes-based approach focuses on helping to design and build an equitable, accessible, responsive and accountable higher education system while fostering a national sense of urgency for action to achieve Goal 2025. Lumina operates from Indianapolis.
- America’s Divided Recovery, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/americas-divided-recovery/
- Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020, State Report, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/StateProjections_6.1.15_agc_v2.pdf
- A Stronger Nation: Postsecondary Learning Builds the Talent that Helps Us Rise, Lumina Foundation, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/2016/#connecticut