Working Nation podcast episode 259
A conversation with Courtney Brown, VP, strategic impact and planning, Lumina FoundationJan. 31, 2023
By Ramona Schindelheim
Lumina Foundation has long advocated for the goal of 60% of Americans earning college degrees or other high-quality credentials beyond high school by 2025. In this episode of Work in Progress, Courtney Brown, vice president of strategic impact and planning for Lumina Foundation, joins me with an update on the nation’s progress toward that goal.
“We advocate for learning beyond high school. We talk about high-quality learning and that includes any degree – associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, or higher – as well as a certificate or a workforce certification,” says Brown.
When Lumina first started tracking the country’s progress through its online data tool, A Stronger Nation, just 37.9% of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 had gotten a post-high school degree, credential, or industry certification.
“We are absolutely making progress. Over the 15 years, we have increased by 16 percentage points, which is pretty amazing. We’re almost at 54% (53.7%) as a nation now for attainment. That includes the short-term credentials, industry certification, as well as degrees,” explains Brown.
“For the first time ever, for degree attainment – associate degrees and higher – every single state increased in attainment, which, again, is really good news,” she adds.
The latest data, which comes from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, shows recent, significant increases in post-high school attainment by Hispanics and Black Americans.
“We saw a really large increase by the Hispanic and Latino population from 2019 to 2021. Their attainment increased by two-and-a-half percentage points. We saw similar for Black Americans; it increased about two percentage points. This is great news.”
While the overall gains are up, these populations still lag behind in degree attainment. Brown breaks down the numbers.
“(Whereas) the national attainment rate for degrees is about 46%, Black attainment is only at 34% and Hispanic attainment is almost 28%, and American Indian, Alaska Native attainment is just over 25%. White attainment (is) at 50%. Asian attainment (is) over almost 66%.
“You can see there’s a huge gap there between where these three populations sit and the national average. While the news is encouraging, there’s still a long way to go before we actually have an equitable attainment here,” she concludes
The importance of industry credentials
Lumina Foundation argues that there is an obvious need for changes in the way we look at education in this country.
“We need a new system for education beyond high school, one built on the expectation that every adult will earn a credential. More learning must be recognized – however it is obtained – and the system must be designed specifically to meet students’ needs,” according to the A Stronger Nation online site, which Brown oversees.
In the podcast, we discuss the importance of short-term industry credentials, in particular, and what they mean to the workforce of today and tomorrow.
Here is some of what she tells me.
“We want these credentials. One of the things when we think about a high-quality credential is they should lead to further learning. They should continue an opportunity for all Americans to have access to the next credential, so they can continue to skill and upskill and reskill as necessary.
“These short-term credentials are really essential for people to have so they can get a job. When I think about the Infrastructure Bill, the CHIPS Bill, and all the jobs that are going to be created, those individuals that are going to be hired need to have those skills.
“They need to have credentialed skills. A certificate in IT, a certification in plumbing, to help to demonstrate to an employer that they have the skills and knowledge that are necessary to get that job, to actually be successful in that job.
“We want to make sure that those individuals recognize that getting some type of learning beyond high school, getting on that pathway is really essential for them to get a good job and a good life and move forward.”
Brown and I had a lot more to talk about. You can listen to our full conversation here, or you can find the Work in Progress podcast wherever you get your podcasts.