Putting Education Reform To The Test

CEO Sees Educational Progress In Florida; Says It’s Too Slow

Lumina Foundation

Lumina Foundation president and CEO Jamie Merisotis. He says the number of Floridians earning higher education degrees is not keeping pace with job openings.

The percentage of Floridians earning college degrees is not increasing fast enough to keep pace with the job market, according to the head of a foundation working to boost higher education graduates.

That’s what Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, told the Economic Club of Florida last week.

“It’s an urgent need,” Merisotis said and nearly every state is far from that goal.

“Here in Florida, according to the most recent data, 37 percent of the state’s working age residents (ages 25 to 64) have at least a two-year college degree,” Merisotis said. “That figure is virtually unchanged over the course of the last four years.”

That means the rates are flat in Florida, and “when it comes to educational progress, flat is actually frightening. That’s because educational success is increasingly linked to economic prosperity.”

Lumina’s strategic plan, Goal 2025, is to have 60 percent of Americans holding a high quality post secondary degree, certificate or other credential by 2025.

The Lumina Foundation is a donor to Florida C.A.N., which supports StateImpact Florida.

Labor experts agree that education level is a key factor for economic growth and job creation, Merisotis said.

“College attainment rates are soaring among young adults in many other nations, but our national rate has been stagnant for decades,” Merisotis said. “In fact, so many nations have moved ahead of us that we’ve now fallen to 15th in the proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds who’ve obtained a college degree.”

He called that troubling because two-thirds of all of the nation’s jobs will require some form of post-secondary education by the end of this decade.

“That’s a huge increase since the 70’s

when only about a quarter of those jobs required any education beyond high school,” Merisotis said.

Florida will need to fill some 2.8 million job vacancies in the next decade, he said, and about 1.6 million of those jobs will require post secondary credentials.

Merisotis laid out the economic impact of a post secondary education:

  • Americans with a high school diploma or less accounted for four out of every five jobs lost in the recent recession.
  • Workers with bachelor’s degrees have continued to gain jobs even during the worst of the economic slowdown.
  • Since the recession officially ended in 2010, the economy has added two million more jobs that require a four-year degree.
  • Last year, the unemployment rate for aged 18- to 24-years-old with only a high school credential was 24 percent.
  • Bachelor degree holders earn an average of 84 percent more over their lifetimes than those with just a high school diploma.

“The labor market is hungry for college graduates, and it’s getting hungrier all the time,” Merisotis said. “Even in this type of job market, employers are willing to pay more for college graduates because more and more of those employers are having difficulty finding the types of skilled workers that they need.”

He sees good progress in Florida.

For example, he notes the Florida Chamber of Commerce put the issue of educational attainment in its Six Pillars Plan for securing Florida’s future.

Merisotis sees trends that bode well for Florida:

  • Florida College System: Serves 900,000 students a year, including 65% of Florida’s high school graduates.
  • State University System: Awards more than 70,000 bachelor’s degree, or higher level degree, each year.
  • 31 independent colleges and universities: Contribute one-quarter of all bachelor’s degrees to the state’s total each year.
  • New Education Commissioner Tony Bennett: Committed to excellence and focused on results for all students.
  • Low tuition: State leaders of institutions have worked consistently to keep tuition costs low while operating efficiently within funding constraints.
  • Embraced expansion of online programs: These programs make college-level learning affordable and accessible to a much wider and more diverse swath of the state’s population.

But positives aside, he said the progress being made in Florida is too limited and too slow.

“Without question, the key to talent development is education,” Merisotis said. “College attainment rates are well below the level that positions you for success and stability in the 21st century global economy. You need to address this problem now, and you must do so in a way that’s collaborative and committed.”

At the current pace, Merisotis said Florida will reach a degree-attainment rate of only 43 percent by 2025.

A preeminent higher education system — redesigned to be flexible, affordable, and quality-focused — will help the state meet the goal, he said.

Three areas where Merisotis thinks Florida needs fundamental change:

  1. A new system for financing higher education. Tuition and student aid systems were designed decades ago to meet needs and conditions that are dramatically different from those today.
  2. New business and finance models that significantly expand the nation’s capacity to deliver affordable, high-quality education.
  3. A redesigned approach to credentialing. Credits and degrees traditionally have been awarded on the basis of time spent in class. Florida needs a new model that recognizes what students have learned, rather than seat time.


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