Students in class

Paving the way to postsecondary success

“The credential is essential in Washington state.”

That is what a recently published Washington Roundtable report states in its analysis of what the state needs to do in order to successfully prepare its youth for the estimated 740,000 job openings between 2016 and 2021 due to a lack of qualified workers.

“The Path to 70 Percent Credential Attainment for Washington Students” report offers an update to the Roundtable’s goal to have 70 percent of Washington students earning a postsecondary credential by 2030, and by age 26, whether that’s a degree, an apprenticeship or a certificate.

That goal is based on what Washington’s economy demands, Brian Jeffries, Policy Director at the Washington Roundtable, told Lens.

Since the recession, all of the job gains have gone to people with postsecondary credentials, and a significant portion went to bachelor’s degree holders or higher.

“When businesses have employee and skill shortages they are filling those gaps by importing that talent from other states and other countries. Washington families need to wake up to the reality that somebody will take those jobs,” said Jeffries.

Washington’s business leaders such as Boeing, Microsoft and Alaska Airlines have shown a commitment to make sure that youth who grew up and went to school in the state have the skills, experiences and credentials they need to compete for the jobs those companies created, he added.

“If our system doesn’t respond and does not prepare our students to attain those credential, the biggest fear is that we will hire students from Oregon, Idaho or Massachusetts,” said Jeffries. “It’s not a bad thing to import talent…but it leaves our own residents and kids behind.”

He added that companies can become involved before high school and inform students about different career paths they can take.

According to the Roundtable report, 75 percent of students in the class of 2006 earned their diploma within five years of starting high school. However, only 31 percent of the class of 2006 earned postsecondary credentials by the age of 26. Although 77 percent of those students were enrolled in some postsecondary institution or training program, only 55 percent who enrolled into two- or four-year institutions ended up graduating.

The study compares that cohort to the class of 2015, which featured 82 percent of high school students earning a diploma within five years. That class also saw a postsecondary enrollment rate of 77 percent, however the Roundtable projects that this class will have 40 percent of the population earning postsecondary credentials by age 26 – a nine percent increase over the 2006 class.

To ensure that the class of 2030 will reach the 70-percent attainment goal, the study found that Washington must more than double its 0.9 percent growth rate each year to 2 percent.

The class of 2030, which entered kindergarten in 2017, will need to reach a 95 percent high school graduation rate and a 95 percent enrollment rate into postsecondary programs to stay on track for the 70-percent attainment goal. If this can be achieved, an estimated 63 percent of those students will earn credentials before they turn 26. The remaining 7 percent would come from reengaging students who have dropped out.

If the state wishes to meet the 2030 attainment goal, the report recommends the state should focus on promoting opportunities within the pipeline from early learning to postsecondary, as well as reaching out to students who drop out and encouraging them to return to receive their credentials.

Also important is significantly increasing the percentage of Native American, Hispanic and African American kids and those in poverty enrolling in postsecondary programs, said Jeffries.

“There is no way mathematically to hit 70 percent if we don’t dramatically increase the success of systemically underserved populations, primarily from low-income backgrounds,” said Jeffries.

Another successful tactic is to host teacher externships in the summer where educators can gain real world experience and learn about the changes and needs within Washington’s economy and industries. From there, teachers can design their curriculum and projects based on what they experienced.

Dr. Jenée Myers Twitchell, Impact Director at Washington STEM, said that the most important part of the report’s analysis is having a “clear goal that outlines the specific point on a student’s trajectory where we are the most behind.”

In partnership with Washington Roundtable, Washington STEM uses the study and other findings to pay attention to the state’s attainment objective and to use that information to set local goals.

Washington STEM’s focus is to triple the number of students of color, low-income students and young women earning credentials because those particular populations tend to fall around 20 to 30 percent attainment.

It is also important that employers maintain a feedback loop with academia, Twitchell added.

“Businesses can say they are really short on medical assistants or that they need more advanced manufacturing or welding folks…that they are getting students with these skills, but they aren’t as good on those skills.”

Washington STEM plans to release regionalized reports on how to reach the 70-percent attainment goal for each of the state’s 11 regional STEM network to act as companions to the Roundtable report.

Mike Richards grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA with a degree in Multiplatform Journalism and a minor in Public Relations. He wrote and published articles at Pittsburgh’s NPR station covering a variety of topics.

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