When I began writing this education blog a year ago, I expected to run into disagreements on vouchers, charter schools and merit pay. But I assumed that everyone would concur we need to send more students to college in Georgia.
Instead, I have run into a sizable contingent arguing that we send too many kids to college already. There has been a steady drum beat for more vocational options because “not all students are meant for higher education.”
Yet, college graduates will earn, on average, over $1 million dollars more over the course of their working lives than peers with just a high school education.
At a hearing on his Bridge bill, which would have created a separate track for kids who are not college material and give them skills to land decent jobs, state Rep. Fran Millar once reflected that while Georgia parents will agree that some kids shouldn’t go to college, they never mean their own children. Their children will go to college.
Millar offered up that comment to explain the lack of traction on his bill, but I think it spoke to something else: The basic understanding among parents, whether they attended college or not, that the future belongs to the well educated.
Consider current unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: For those with less than a high school diploma, the unemployment rate was 13.8 percent. Among those with a high school diploma but no college, the rate was 10.1 percent. For those with some college but no degree, the rate was 8.3 percent. For those with an undergraduate degree or beyond, the rate was 4.5 percent.
In a new report released last week, the Lumina Foundation said 37.9 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 held a two- or four-year college degree in 2008.
“If the current rate of increase remains, less than 47 percent of Americans will hold a two- or four-year degree by 2025 — a rate that economic experts say is far below the level that can keep the nation competitive in the global, knowledge-based economy,” the foundation warned in its report, “A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education.”
Among its Georgia-specific data:
–Approximately 36 percent of adults in Georgia have at least a 2-year degree. This is below the national average of 37.9 percent.
–Murray County has the smallest percent of adults with a 2- or 4-year degree (9.6%), and Fayette County has the largest (54.2%)
–To meet the goal of 60 percent higher education attainment by 2025, Georgia needs to add approximately 1,346,524 additional college degrees in the next 15 years.
Citing the findings of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the Lumina report noted, “According to the center’s analysis of occupation data and workforce trends, 58 percent of Georgia’s jobs will require postsecondary education by 2018. Between now and 2018, Georgia will need to fill about 1.4 million vacancies resulting from job creation, worker retirements and other factors. Of these job vacancies, 820,000 will require postsecondary credentials, while only 595,000 are expected to be filled by high school graduates or dropouts.”
Now, a report released today by the Southern Regional Education Board echoes the conclusions of the Lumina Foundation. In its report, SREB maintains that to meet the target of having 60 percent of the adult population hold a postsecondary certificate or degree by 2025, its 16 member states will need to increase significantly the numbers of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees they award each year.
“We need much-improved career and technical education courses so that more kids can attend some type of college—as you may know, many CT programs now prepare kids for college, or at least specialized technical training. I visited a CT school, formerly known as the ‘vocational school’ in my native Anderson county, south Carolina, and found them making biofuels, studying nanotechnology, doing high-quality broadcast journalism and advertising projects, and more,” said Alan Richard, director of communications for SREB.
“SREB senior vice president Gene Bottoms, the guru of raising the quality of CT programs, advised Millar on his bill, which aims to provide more high-quality CT programs like the ones I discussed rather than a low-level vocational track that leads to very low-paying jobs,” said Richard. “All of this presumably would move us in the same direction. We need many more people to enter and finish four-year degree programs, but the same is true for two-year and technical certificate programs, which are often much more advanced these days than most people realize. Just imagine the math and technology required to become a certified HVAC repair person these days.”