Washington’s educational attainment levels are far below what is needed for our future economic needs.
AN educated citizenry provides significant benefits to individuals, communities and our state’s economy.
Higher levels of education aren’t just a luxury. Research suggests our future demands it. Employment projections in Washington state for the period of 2018-23 show a robust demand for skilled workers with postsecondary credentials and education.
The trend toward increasing complexity in the workplace and the need for more skilled and educated workers are clearly reflected in Washington’s employment outlook. The vast majority of all job openings (77 percent) will require at least some education beyond high school, with 67 percent requiring at least a year or more of postsecondary education or training. Yet for adults ages 25 through 44, only 44 percent of the working population possessed at least an associate degree in 2013.
Washington’s attainment levels are far below what is needed for our future economic needs. The results are clear: Business as usual just isn’t enough for our students, families and businesses.
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In 2013, our state formally recognized the importance of education with the adoption of 10-year educational attainment goals. In the 2015 Roadmap Progress Report produced by the Washington Student Achievement Council, it is clear that Washington still has work to do.
Workers need the right postsecondary preparation to gain a foothold and prosper in the labor market. Employers need highly skilled talent in order to remain competitive. A lack of skilled workers hampers business productivity and growth. If our state fails to educate a skilled workforce, employers will fill middle-income jobs by importing talent or relocating. Washingtonians will be left behind.
This is the stark reality driving the work of the Washington Student Achievement Council and its partners: the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, the Council of Presidents, and the Independent Colleges of Washington.
Tackling this problem requires strong collaboration in our education system — from early learning to college campuses. Students need to move through the educational pipeline successfully at all levels. We need focused strategies supporting students to prepare for, and be successful in, postsecondary education and workforce preparation. To meet the state’s workforce needs, more adults must enroll in postsecondary education or training, and persist to complete a skills-based credential.
The Washington Student Achievement Council recognizes the need to make a commitment to raise educational levels and provide opportunities for Washingtonians. To achieve these goals would require dramatic improvements in:
• High-school graduation rates statewide, especially among students from the fastest growing segments of our population who, traditionally, have had the lowest attainment rates
• College affordability by fully funding tuition reductions and expanding the State Need Grant to serve all eligible low-income students at all age levels
• College enrollments by making it easier for working-age adults to learn while they earn, and by ensuring more high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education and training programs
• College completion rates by supporting current and former college students to reach their attainment goals. Those students who enroll and complete a credential — especially at the associate degree level or above — earn considerably higher wages and experience much lower rates of unemployment.
Above all, we need a commitment from our leaders to college access and attainment for all Washingtonians. Washington trails other states in high-school graduation rates and in the percentage of the population enrolled in postsecondary education. Over the past decade, the gap in achievement between our poor and middle-income students has widened more than in any other state. We can and we must do better.
Despite facing daunting challenges, Washington has an adept educational system and business leadership in place to bring successful initiatives to scale and adopt innovative programs. By leveraging the opportunities available and by responding effectively to the challenges, the state can successfully meet its educational attainment goals.
Now, more than ever, we need our leaders — in government, education and business — to come together around a unified commitment that all Washingtonians must have opportunities to develop the skills they need to excel in a global economy and participate in a dynamic and prosperous Washington.