Georgetown University education researchers: “high school is no longer enough;” postsecondary credentials are essential.

We’ve sounded the theme often: Unprecedented job opportunities are becoming open in Washington state. Most of these jobs will be filled by employees with a postsecondary credential or some college. Last summer we reported on research from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce that emphasized the point. 

The number of good jobs held by workers with no more than a high school diploma has declined by over 1 million since 1991. Good jobs have shifted primarily to workers with Associate’s degrees, who have gained more than 3 million net new jobs during that same period.

Using our age-adjusted earnings standard for good jobs, we find that the number of workers with good jobs that pay without a BA has increased over the past quarter century— from 27 million in 1991 to 30 million today, even with large losses in manufacturing employment. The share of good jobs held by workers without a BA, though, has declined, from 60 percent to 45 percent of all good jobs, as BA holders are taking an increasing share of the good jobs. Workers with BAs now hold 36 million good jobs.

Three scholars with the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce, in a thought-provoking piece published in The Conversation January 1, 2018, write,

If we fail to recognize that the game has changed and that high school is no longer enough, we will also fail to prepare future generations for tomorrow’s jobs…

We first have to recognize that the current vision is only working for half of our young adults. That is, less than half of young adults earn a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or industry-recognized certificate postsecondary credential – the current standard for career readiness – by the age of 30. The advantaged half of our high school students earn college degrees, and most, if not all, move on to successful career pathways.

Our research shows that among those who earn college degrees and certificates, the vast majority make more than the average high school graduate.

Our 2017 foundation report update reported that that “less than half” is “less than a third” in our state (although we relied on data using age 26, not 30; likely not much of a difference).

Increasingly, the majority of jobs in Washington will be filled by workers with a postsecondary credential (such as a technical or industry certificate, apprenticeship, or degree). Today, just 31 percent of Washington high school students go on to attain such a credential by the age of 26. The mismatch between workforce readiness and job openings hampers our collective ability to take advantage of the potential economic growth that lies ahead.

We concluded the discussion by noting that performance outcomes will have to improve:

Preparing more Washington kids for Washington jobs requires a cradle-to-career approach to raising student achievement. The Washington Roundtable has set an ambitious goal: By 2030, 70 percent of Washington high school students will go on to attain a postsecondary credential by age 26. Opportunity Washington supports such a vision…

The evidence is clear; so must be the commitment.