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Five Education Trends to Watch as Mid-term Elections Approach

The View Many Candidates Have of College Is Totally Outdated

INDIANAPOLIS—As the 2014 mid-term elections approach, the view many candidates have of higher education in America is outdated. Some of the old buildings remain from when they were in school, but who college serves now and how it’s delivered has changed dramatically. And those changes require a new way of thinking from our federal and state policymakers.

The ivory towers of higher education are shifting like never before, and leaders across various sectors and industries are grappling with how to redesign the system. Those elected—or reelected—to office this November will be integral in this effort.

According to Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis, there are five key trends happening in higher education that warrant our attention:

  1. The face of college is changing, but many of our policymakers and institutions aren’t keeping pace.

    “Today, fewer than 20 percent of incoming freshman will have graduated from high school and immediately enrolled in a residential, four-year college or university. That’s a sea change, to be sure, but too many of our federal and state leaders are still making policy decisions using outdated perspectives based on when they were in college.

    In reality, 21st century students represent all ages, income groups, races and ethnicities. These students face a variety of challenges, as they struggle to pay for school, juggle family responsibilities and/or simultaneously pursue a career. These changes require policymakers, institutions and employers to rethink how to best deliver quality education to an increasingly diverse group of learners.

    Consider this: it’s estimated that within the next 10 years, the Department of Defense will see over one million service members transition out of the military. Many of them will seek out postsecondary education opportunities, and they’ll join thousands of other student veterans already pursuing degrees and credentials across America. Our nation—and our institutions of learning—must be ready to meet the learning needs of these vets.”

  2. More Americans are earning degrees and credentials, but our attainment rate lags other countries.

    “According our 2014 A Stronger Nation through Higher Education report , 39.4 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2012—the most recent year for which data are available. That figure is up from 2008 when the rate was 37.9 percent, but it’s well behind what’s happening in other countries.

    In fact, our national attainment rate is anemic when considered in a larger global context. According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. ranks a disappointing 11th in global postsecondary attainment overall. And the attainment rate among young people (ages 25-34) is even more troubling. While fewer than 41 percent of young adults in the U.S. have completed education beyond high school, their counterparts in South Korea are at an astounding 64 percent, and the rates in Japan and Canada approach 60 percent.

    America is being rapidly outpaced by other countries in the global race for higher education. To change that equation, we need more policymakers and institution leaders to champion pathways that can lead to increased access and a culture of completion for more Americans.”

  3. Americans say education beyond high school matters and institutions must change to better serve students.

    “In a recent Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll, 74 percent of Americans said they strongly agree or agree that a postsecondary degree or credential is important to attaining a better quality of life, while 90 percent believe it’s very or somewhat important to increase the proportion of Americans with postsecondary degrees or credentials. Eighty-nine percent of Americans report that higher education institutions need to change to better serve the needs of today’s students.

    Part of these student-centered changes must focus on addressing the increasing cost of college, and providing better financial aid models that our students depend on to pay for higher education. Fortunately, increasingly more states, colleges and universities are taking the steps necessary to reform the system. Redesign champions are developing new models of student financial support at the federal and state levels, and institutions are streamlining time-to-degree and curbing unnecessary costs.

    Many of our political leaders have recognized that new approaches are needed. Some are helping to strengthen community college systems across the country. Others are advocating for outcomes-based funding to help students complete their degrees faster and more affordably. But, more needs to be done and we’re calling on more policymakers to make this a national priority.”

  4. Companies are investing in new ways to educate their workers and meet future workforce needs.

    “Labor economists predict that by 2018, more than two-thirds of all U.S. jobs will require learning beyond high school. Yet, fewer than 40 percent of Americans hold a two- or four-year college degree. This startling reality is proof positive that our nation is in the midst of a talent gap.

    In response, employers are investing in higher education in innovative ways to increase the talent level of their existing workforces. Whether it’s forming partnerships with community colleges to provide academic credit for learning obtained in the workplace, implementing tuition reimbursement programs, offering employer-provided educational counseling or more, employers see advantages to providing avenues for the higher learning of their employees.

    Starbucks’ College Achievement Plan is an example of a company that’s investing in this area. Starbucks realizes that the education of its employees is not only a quality of life issue, but an investment that the corporation can make to bolster its growing need for talent. Our hope is that more employers will join this movement—not only for their bottom lines, but for our national well-being.”

  5. More cities are working to increase their higher education attainment rates, and they’ll realize competitive advantages for their efforts.

    “Research shows that investment in human capital, far more than physical infrastructure, explains why cities succeed. Economists find that as a city’s population with a postsecondary degree increases by 10 percent, its gross metropolitan product (GMP) rises by 22 percent—that’s a powerful indicator to city leaders on where their money is best spent.

    We know that higher postsecondary attainment drives local economies, greater individual earning power and better quality of life. Every community wants that, and through Lumina’s Community Partners for Attainment initiative, we are now working with 55 communities across America to help incubate the momentum they’ve demonstrated toward graduating more students.

    These city leaders know that they need more talent to be successful in the 21st century knowledge economy. And beyond the obvious economic reasons, they also want to secure the substantial social benefits that come with increased attainment including: greater civic and social engagement, higher rates of voter participation and volunteerism, healthier lifestyles, less dependence on public assistance and more.

About Lumina Foundation: Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. We envision a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. Our goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.

Media contact:

Beth Parker
On behalf of Lumina Foundation

Kate Snedeker

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