From slumping poll numbers to a stinging bribery scandal over admissions, higher education has taken a beating recently. But as most of us know—and as states such as Michigan and Florida are affirming—there’s still no better path to a secure future than education and training after high school.

You probably read about results from the Gallup poll last fall: Fewer than half (48 percent) of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education. That was down from 57 percent in 2015.

The doubters probably weren’t reassured by this spring’s college scandal in which federal prosecutors charged 50 people in a bribery scheme to secure spots for their children in big-name schools such as Yale, Stanford and Georgetown.

Attainment goals spreading

Despite all this, faith in education and training seems largely unshaken across the country. Nearly every state has set or is considering specific goals for education attainment.

They include Florida, where new Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order aimed at boosting the state “to become №1 in the nation in workforce education by 2030” to fill the high-demand, high-wage jobs of today and to prepare for the future.

“Florida has many students unprepared for college and workforce success, limiting both their career opportunities as well as employers’ ability to grow their businesses,” DeSantis said.

“I am committed to making sure students in Florida are able to acquire the knowledge and learn the skills they need to earn a good wage and provide for their families here in our great state.”

Strategic talent plan

In the Florida Legislature, meanwhile, the House Higher Education and Career Readiness subcommittee is working on a bill that would create the “Strengthening Alignment between Industry and Learning (SAIL) to 60” initiative. This bill would establish a goal to increase the percentage of working age adults who hold a high-value postsecondary education to 60 percent by 2030.

The bill would also require the State Board of Education (K12 and community colleges) and the Board of Governors (universities) to increase awareness of programs and increase participation in postsecondary education leading to a high-quality credential. Finally, it reimagines the Higher Education Coordinating Council (HECC) as the Florida Talent Development Council, putting it under the leadership of the governor’s office and requiring the council to develop a strategic plan for talent development.

DeSantis and the legislature are elevating talent-development work underway for many years among higher education advocacy organizations, communities, and employers in Florida. In its Florida 2030 Report, the state’s Chamber of Commerce recommended that 60 percent of working-age Floridians have a high-value postsecondary certificate, degree, or training experience by 2030. The report said achieving that goal would enable Florida to grow into a top 10 global economy and create a path of prosperity into the future.

Florida is ranked 20th in the nation for people age 25–64 with at least an associate degree or with a high-quality, workforce-relevant certificate.

Urgency of the moment

Recently, I noted that Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a 60 percent goal for postsecondary attainment. Florida and Michigan are very different states with different economies, of course. Florida has twice the population and ranks higher in educational attainment, but lower in median income.

But whatever else separates them, the two states are joined with so many others across the country in the urgency of the moment—growing more talent. It’s about meeting the demands of the workplace, and the ambitions of their people for prosperity.

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