We Can’t Stop Learning09/04/2015
A few days ago, I was at the College of the Ouachitas in Malvern. Visiting with two students there, I asked them if they would incur much debt when they graduated. Both said they were working while going to school, were on schedule to graduate on time, and would finish without debt.
I told that story later to our chancellors and presidents at the Arkansas Department of Higher Education when I helped outline our vision for the future of higher ed in Arkansas.
In short, we must make higher education more attainable and more affordable for more Arkansans.
Almost 57 percent of Arkansans hold a high-school diploma or less. That’s about 850,000 of us in a state of fewer than 3 million folks. Based upon projected workforce needs, 236,000 adult Arkansans will lack the proper education credentials to be employed by 2020.
This is a jobs gap. It is an economic-development challenge. And this gap is holding Arkansas back.
Consider that the average salary for someone with only a high-school diploma is $13,000 a year. There are exceptions to that, of course, but that’s the five-year average. And that’s discouraging.
If you earn a technical certificate, the average goes up to $26,000.
So just by getting a technical certificate, you double your pay.
Furthering your education means a better standard of living. It means a better-trained workforce. It means a more attractive workforce for businesses looking to expand or relocate in Arkansas.
As for affordability, well, anybody who’s attended college recently or sent a child off to college knows that the costs are going up every year. And the longer you stay in college chasing that degree, the more it costs. One recent study found that return on investment for the cost of a college degree was reduced substantially if a student took six years to graduate instead of four.
In other words, you enter the workforce playing catch up financially.
Here’s what I’d like to see:
I’d like to see us raise the completion and graduation rates of colleges and universities by 10 percent.
I’d like to see us dramatically increase the enrollment of adults.
I’d like to see us shorten the time to a degree by emphasizing concurrent credit programs, improving the college readiness of students and reducing the number of students who take remedial courses.
I’d like to see a percentage of state scholarship funds set aside for targeted groups.
Yes, these are big challenges. But I like challenges. Arkansans like challenges. The old saying goes that we never stop learning — and, in this case, we can’t afford to.