College might not be for everybody, but post-secondary education is, a leading authority on the subject told the Tulsa Regional Chamber on Thursday.
“There are times when people say, ‘Not everyone needs to go to college,’ ” said Danette Howard, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation. “And there are times when people say, ‘It’s just not worth the cost.’ And I will agree that maybe not everyone needs a bachelor’s degree.
“But everyone actually does need to have some sort of post-high school learning — unless any of us are OK with someone being able to earn only $9,000 a year.”
Howard said Tennessee found that’s the average annual income in that state of those with high school diplomas but no post-secondary education two years after graduation.
A big reason for that is because 99 percent of jobs created since the Great Recession require some sort of post-high school credential, Howard said.
That may also be one reason many sectors of the economy report labor shortages. Howard’s Lumina Foundation says about 48% of Americans ages 25-64 have some form of post-secondary education, whether it be an advanced graduate degree or an industry or skill certification.
The foundation’s goal, set in 2008, is to raise that figure to 60% by 2025.
Oklahoma’s goal is 70%, but through 2017 it was at only 42% — and that’s an increase of more than a third from just one decade ago.
Some of that is because of a change in what the organization counts as post-secondary learning, but Howard said it nevertheless represents real progress.
Nationally, Howard said, the problem is that post-secondary education is not set up to meet the needs of the vast number of people who need it.
“The reality is that today’s students and today’s learners are pursuing post-secondary learning in very different ways,” Howard said. “Today, students who don’t go to college right after high school and who don’t go to college and finish in four years are much more of the majority than people think.”
Howard illustrated this with several statistics about students, including:
• 49% get no assistance from their families.
• 24% are parents themselves.
• 31% live at or below the poverty level.
• 34% are older than 25.
• 40% work full time.
“We need a system that’s completely redesigned,” Howard said.
The system would include “employer partnerships” that allow people to earn post-secondary credit for on-the-job learning and encourage employers to provide more high-quality education and training for their workers.
Howard said Discover found its tuition reimbursement program, which it introduced as an employee benefit, actually provided a net financial gain to the company through the improved productivity of the workers who took advantage of it.
“Gone are the days when folks went to college for two years or for four years and learn and then go to work,” Howard said. “As if they learn in a vacuum and then work in a vacuum.
“But many folks are trying to do both at the same time — earning these credentials and working full time.”
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