Postsecondary education expands opportunities: Efforts to increase participation in college and training programs

Earlier today we wrote that the March jobs report showed much more positive hiring for workers with college educations than for lower-skilled job seekers. The Associated Press takes a closer look at the divergence among demographic groups, also emphasizing education..

For people without high school diplomas, unemployment jumped to 5.9%, the highest level in five months. By contrast, the jobless rate for college graduates fell to 2%, the lowest point in five months.

Boosting postsecondary education attainment has long been an Opportunity Washington priority, building off solid evidence that training and education after high school are increasingly sought by employers. We’ve noted that most of the great jobs being created in our state will go to workers with postsecondary credentials. And we’ve endorsed the Washington Roundtable’s goal of 70 percent credential attainment.

A Seattle Times report earlier this week found that too many students are not ready to make the transition.

Despite years of investment in South King County schools, a new report shows that districts still aren’t meeting the needs of students there — and that the population of students is changing.

For example, the vast majority of students in seven South King County school districts say they want to continue their education after high school, but most also say they’re not fully prepared for college — and very few finish a degree by the time they’re in their 20s.

That’s one finding from an annual report released last weekthat measured student success in South King County, one of the most diverse regions in the area. Although Seattle is America’s most highly educated big city, the college-going numbers in those seven school districts expose “a glaring disconnect between the booming economy and low rates of post-secondary attainment for the young people growing up here,” said Mary Jean Ryan, executive director of the Community Center for Education Results.

Commenting and expanding on the finding, the Seattle Times editorial board wrote,

The jobs of tomorrow will require education beyond high school, either a college degree or professional training. Today’s high school students know that, as demonstrated in a survey of students included in a recent reportfrom the Road Map Project. But those young people also know they will need more help to reach their career dreams.

Citing progress statewide, the editorial acknowledges that attainment rates overall must improve. The keys, the editorial board says, are known:

• All students should enter kindergarten ready to learn. Children need high quality early learning to prepare them for regular school.

• Career planning and academic guidance must be top-notch in high school, especially in places where many parents did not go to college.

• College prep means both academic achievement and help applying to college and filling out financial-aid forms.

• First-in-family college students, often from low-income families, need extra help and encouragement once they get into college or career training programs. This help is needed especially at community colleges.

Connecting training and education with career opportunities increases success rates. We’ve discussed Career Connect Washington previously. In an op-ed in the Seattle Times, Maud Daudon advocates greater support for the program. 

As the former CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, I know companies large and small are concerned about where to find talent. They want to hire locally but struggle to find skilled applicants. In the next five years, Washington state expects 740,000 job openings. About 70 percent of them will require a credential beyond high school, many with both academic and practical components.

About 65,000 students graduate every year from Washington public high schools into this great job market. Yet only 40 percent of our students complete a credential after high school. What’s more, even the college graduates don’t always know how degrees translate into careers…

We’re fortunate that our state already has many successful local programs. Those programs need to be expanded into a comprehensive set of high-quality programs across the state.

Career Connected Washington is working to build a system that will allow all students to engage in three main levels: career exploration, career preparation and career launch.

One of the state’s highest priorities must always be providing the tools that will allow all Washingtonians to succeed in an increasingly challenging, dynamic economic.