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Embracing the Goal of Increased College Attainment in Dayton

Remarks by Jamie P. Merisotis, President & CEO, Lumina Foundation
Launch of Learn to Earn Dayton, hosted by Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, Sinclair Community College, Dayton, OH

Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. I’m pleased to be with you today, and I’m very proud to represent Lumina Foundation at today’s launch of Learn to Earn Dayton. The scope of the Learn to Earn effort … and the energy behind it … speak volumes for the sense of cooperation and shared commitment in this city.

Sinclair Community College, Nov. 20, 2012
Learn to Earn Dayton Launch, Nov. 20, 2012, photo by Larry C. Price

The speakers you’ve already heard here today—individuals from area business, from community leadership, and from every segment of the education pipeline and the philanthropic community—these voices demonstrate a powerful collaborative spirit here in the Dayton area. That is tremendously encouraging … and not just because it tells a feel-good story about neighbors working together. It’s encouraging for a very practical reason. The fact is, the progress you’re trying to make—the gains in educational attainment that this region … and indeed, our nation … must make—simply can’t occur without the combined effort of a broad range of partners.

Many leaders in this community have shown great foresight in taking a comprehensive, “cradle-to-career” approach to increasing educational attainment.

Many leaders in this community—people like Tom Lasley with Learn to Earn Dayton, Phil Parker at the Dayton Chamber, our colleagues at Sinclair Community College, and so many others—have shown great foresight in taking a comprehensive, “cradle-to-career” approach to increasing educational attainment. This broad-based, all-hands-on-deck approach is very important, because that’s the only viable way to bring about systemic change—and that type of change is truly what’s needed. As has been proven many times in far too many cities and regions, piecemeal or siloed attempts at education reform just aren’t sufficient. The task of increasing postsecondary attainment is a complex, many-faceted challenge, and no one sector or stakeholder can make it happen. It takes an enduring, broad-based commitment—from every sector along the education pipeline, from the policy community, from local business, philanthropy and community-based organizations. We recognize that type of broad and deep collaboration as collective impact … and I commend all of you for committing yourselves to that path.

Dayton’s population of college-educated citizens has been shrinking, and its poverty rate rising.

Of course, the underlying reason for this commitment—the driving force behind the effort to boost educational attainment here in the Dayton area—is quite clear. You’ve all felt the effects of the difficult economy … in fact, you’ve felt that pain for decades. This area, like much of the Midwest, has suffered massive job losses in the industrial sector, with major corporations leaving the region and many others downsizing. The employers that remain are having a hard time finding well-qualified workers—workers who can fill a widening skills gap, particularly in advanced manufacturing and other technical fields. Through all of this, Dayton’s population of college-educated citizens has been shrinking, and its poverty rate rising.

In short, you have learned—and you’ve often learned the hard way—that Dayton needs a talent turnaround. You need to build a system here that can develop the highly skilled, adaptive workforce—the talent—that can spur economic growth and ensure lasting prosperity and security in this region. You’ve also learned that, when it comes to talent development, nothing is more important than increasing the level of college-level learning among your residents. That’s why Learn to Earn Dayton has embraced the idea behind what we at Lumina call Goal 2025. That goal, for any of you who needs a reminder, is this: By the year 2025, 60 percent of Americans need to hold high-quality college degrees, certificates or other credentials.

College-level learning is already a necessity for anyone who aspires to build and maintain a middle-class lifestyle.

This college-attainment goal is critical to the nation’s long-term economic and social health. In fact, economists and labor experts say college-level learning is already a necessity for anyone who aspires to build and maintain a middle-class lifestyle. By the end of this decade, they say, nearly two-thirds of all jobs will require some level of postsecondary education.

Sinclair Community College, Nov. 20, 2012
Learn to Earn Dayton Launch, Nov. 20, 2012, photo by Larry C. Price

We all know that the benefits of higher education play out at the community and individual levels (as well as state and national, of course). I just want to remind you of a couple facts. First, even during the Great Recession, when we were reading stories daily about the PhD cab driver or master’s-holding bartender, people with Bachelor’s degrees actually continued to gain jobs. Since the formal recession ended in early 2010, they’ve gained another 2 million jobs. People with an associate degree lost a lot of jobs during the recession, but nearly all of them have been added back in the last two years. More importantly, those with a high school diploma or less lost four out of 5 of the jobs that were lost during the recession—5.6 million in total—and those individuals are continuing to lose jobs even in this recovery period.

The earnings premium for education has never been higher. The employment ramifications of educational attainment have never been more intense. Will every person with a postsecondary credential have a good job and a middle-class income? Of course not, but their chances of having that good job and middle-income wage are dramatically better. And for those who do not earn some type of postsecondary credential, they will almost certainly be poor and struggle for stable, recession-buffeted employment. We can extend this analysis to communities—communities that focus and invest in higher education, keeping their well-educated and bringing more educated people in, will have far greater chances of being competitive, vibrant places to live and work. Communities that do nothing will continue to shrink, to lose their luster and attractiveness. It’s that simple.

But increasing the number of people with college credentials isn’t merely a means of plugging the skills gap and boosting economic progress in communities. The benefits of increased college attainment go beyond economics. Significant social benefits ripple out as well: greater civic and social engagement, higher rates of voter participation and volunteerism, healthier lifestyles, less dependence on public assistance. In other words, the push to increase college attainment doesn’t merely help Dayton face the economic challenges of the present; that effort is key to building a prosperous and secure future for the region.

That expansive, forward-looking view of the college-attainment agenda is important—for every stakeholder in the Learn to Earn effort, and really for everyone who embraces Goal 2025. Of course economics matters, but this isn’t some kind of spreadsheet exercise in skill development or job creation. At its core, this effort is about people—helping people forge a better future.

And if the effort is to succeed, we must focus on the people who really constitute our future as a nation: the students—especially the growing ranks of what some continue to call “nontraditional students.” The fact is, the “traditional student”—one who enrolls full-time at a four-year residential institution immediately after high school—is very much in the minority these days, representing only about 20 percent of the postsecondary population. Today’s students, and certainly the students of tomorrow, are an infinitely more diverse group. And it’s critically important that we commit to increasing the success of today’s students—the ever-growing number of low-income, first-generation, minority and adult students who constitute the “real world” on campuses these days.

Lumina Foundation is very much committed to this student-centered approach, for at least two reasons. First of all, this approach aims squarely at closing the persistent and pernicious gaps in educational attainment between more privileged populations and those who face barriers to success stemming from the circumstances of their birth. Twenty-first century students—those who attend part time, are low-income, first-generation, working adults or students of color—account for a large and growing percentage of the postsecondary population, and they represent huge potential for our nation. They are our future, and we simply cannot reach Goal 2025 without focusing intently on their educational success.

One thing we talk about that often shocks people: Even if we could magically increase the high school graduation rate to historically high levels, and then if every one of those graduates went on to college and earned a credential, we would still fall short of the goal. So the challenge is unavoidable: We must look beyond the traditional pipeline.

We at Lumina have thought a great deal recently about how to make Goal 2025 operational—about what it will actually take to reach that national, 60 percent attainment goal. We’ve started to put some real numbers to this task, beginning with 103 million: which represents 60 percent of the nation’s projected working-age population by 2025. If attainment trends continue on their current course, we can expect some 80 million Americans to hold college degrees, certificates or other credentials by 2025. That leaves a gap of 23 million high-quality credentials to be earned in the next 12 years—23 million degrees beyond what we can expect the current system to produce.

Obviously, then, if the nation is to reach this goal, the system must change—in several ways and at virtually every point along the educational pipeline. We’ve actually done the math, and can show that through the achievement of four key, but reachable, objectives, we can actually exceed the target. I won’t walk you through that math now, but I’ll just quickly note that reasonable increases in high school graduation rates, completion rates in college, adult degree completion, and a renewed focus on high-quality postsecondary certificates gets you there between now and 2025.

Of course, it won’t be easy to make the numbers add up … and every city, state and region will have its part to play in meeting this critical national challenge. Here in Dayton, and in the state of Ohio broadly, the challenges you face are significant. We know—and you've heard this several times today—that far too few people in Montgomery County and in the Dayton metro area have at least an associate degree. The attainment rates here in Dayton and in Ohio are near or below the national rate of 38 percent. On a statewide basis, if Ohio continues on its current trajectory in terms of degree attainment, the state will only reach an attainment rate of 44 percent by 2025 and would need to add more than 900,000 more degrees to reach the 60 percent level.

Now, it’s important to note that those percentages do not include postsecondary certificates, which I mentioned earlier. Certificates are an important issue, not because they get us closer to that 60 percent goal, but because certificates have real value—to employers, to workers, and to students who use them as steppingstones to further education. Still, even with certificates, which we’re estimating may add 5 percent to the total, it’s clear that your city and your state have your work cut out for you.

And that’s one of the things that makes Learn to Earn Dayton so important: Your awareness of the data—and the response you are making to the problems highlighted in that data—identify you as an emerging model for other cities to follow. The systemic, thoughtful steps that you take … improving kindergarten readiness and K-12 preparation, smoothing middle school to high school transitions, ensuring college and career readiness at the high school level, fostering greater partnerships among employers and the postsecondary system … all of these efforts make you a city worth watching—a place where real change is occurring.

At Lumina, we hope we've captured some of the spirit of those changes in our latest issue of Focus magazine, which is also included the materials you were given this morning. Our goal with this publication—which explores the topic of sub-baccalaureate credentials by spotlighting activities right here in Dayton—has important lessons for other communities. We hope that Dayton will be a model and a resource for those in other cities and metropolitan areas who are looking for their place in the Goal 2025 effort.

I know that you’re just launching Learn to Earn Dayton, but it’s clear you’ve already learned a great deal about how this work must be done. You have much to teach; and so far, the lessons have been encouraging. All of the relevant local stakeholders are united around a specific goal and each is committed to creating the type of collective impact that will benefit all. Your task won’t be easy, of course, but it is absolutely vital and it will pay off—certainly in the city you call home, but also in other places that learn from your good work.

So I urge you to stick with it; embrace the task with vigor and confidence, and as you do, you can be sure that Lumina will be a proud and appreciative partner. Thank you.

Sinclair's economic impact tops $340M | Dayton Daily News | Nov. 24, 2012

Tracy Chen

A series of reports show investing in employee tuition reimbursement yields significant financial payback.
See Talent Investment series