By Mike Armstrong
KSBA Executive Director
A recent press release by the nonprofit organization Public Agenda was headlined “New Survey Suggests Public Confidence in Higher Ed Waning.” The release listed several of the specific survey questions, including Question 4, which asked:
“Do you think that college education is necessary for a person to be successful in today’s work world or do you think that there are many ways to succeed in today’s work world without a college education?”
In response, only 42 percent of respondents said “College education is necessary,” while 57 percent answered “There are many ways to succeed in today’s world without a college degree.” For survey Question 5, 46 percent of respondents answered “A college education is a questionable investment because of high student loans and limited job opportunities.”*
Meanwhile, in June 2016, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report, America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots 2016, found that “for the first time, college graduates make up a larger share of the workforce than workers with a high school diploma or less” and that “out of the jobs created in the recovery, 8.4 million have gone to those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, while high school jobs only grew by 80,000.”
The recovery job data also reflects a distinct divide and highlights the education level of the worker. Specifically, the report said, “the economy has added 11.6 million jobs since the Recession bottomed-out – 11.5 million, or 99 percent of them, have gone to workers with at least some college education.”
The same has not been a reality for workers with a high school diploma or less. “Of the 7.2 million jobs lost in the Recession, 5.6 million were jobs for workers with a high school diploma or less. These workers have recovered only 1 percent of those job losses over the past six years.”
Looking even deeper at the specific jobs in Haves and Have-Nots, the post-Great Recession recovery “added primarily managerial and professional jobs,” especially business management, health-care professionals, and technical occupations; while the Recession “decimated blue-collar and clerical jobs,” including office and administrative support, construction and production jobs.
In Kentucky, potential workers are faced with several postsecondary education realities. One estimate projects that more than half of jobs in Kentucky will require some higher education in 2018. (Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, June 2010.)
So, what can local boards of education do to address these realities? Participating in the Dual-Credit Scholarship Program can go a long way to enabling high school students to get a “leg-up” on a college education by earning college credit hours while still enrolled in high school. The state’s new Work Ready Skills Initiative program “is aimed at building a highly trained, modernized workforce in the Commonwealth to meet the needs of employers and promote sustainable incomes for Kentuckians.” Projects ranging from new construction, facilities renovations or upgrades, and/or the purchase of new or upgraded equipment will go a long way to better preparing students to enter the workforce. At least three dozen school districts were vying for funding under that initiative, and awards may have been announced by the time you read this. Promoting industry-sponsored work-and-learn programs, like the UPS’ Kentucky LOOP (Living Options and Opportunities Plan) also can make opportunities possible for many students willing to work and learn.
*To read the full release describing the survey results, go to http://www.publicagenda.org/pages/newsroom and look under Press Releases.