Assessing the Progress Towards Education Goals

At the end of the Great Recession both the US government and Lumina Foundation set education goals for the country that could help create a stronger workforce, assist the economic recovery efforts, and ultimately create a stronger economy. The US Government’s Postsecondary Degree Completion Goal is that by 2020, 60 percent of the US population age 25-34 would have an associate’s degree or higher. Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025 is broader. It is that by 2025, 60 percent of the US population age 25-64 would have a high quality post-secondary certificate, an associate’s degree or higher.

Both these education goals were established to help spur workforce development and solve the skills gap that has made it difficult to match worker skills with job requirements. The Lumina Foundation Stronger Nation report states, “The need for universal postsecondary education is a direct result of the global shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. Since 2011 the US economy has added 11.5 million more jobs for workers with education beyond high school but only 80,000 more jobs for those with a high school diploma or less.”

So how is the United States doing at meeting these goals? Since 2008 higher education attainment has risen by 7.9 percent, from 37.9 to 45.8 percent, but there still is a long way to go. To reach Goal 2025 16.4 million more people need to earn high quality postsecondary credentials.

To find those 16.4 million people, Lumina Foundation has identified three “opportunity populations,” groups of people who could reach higher education goals, to make Goal 2025 a reality.
• The first group is traditional age students, currently age 16 to 24, who are right now not likely to complete postsecondary education. This group, Lumina estimates, could add 4.8 million credentials.
• The second group is returning adult students who have some postsecondary education but did not earn a credential. There are 36 million people, age 25-64, in this group. Lumina estimates that this group could add 6.1 million credentials.
• The last group represents a huge opportunity for the United States to reach Goal 2025. There are 43.8 million people, age 25-64, with no postsecondary education. This group could add 5.5 million credentials.

Each of these groups is important to the United States achieving national education goals. US Bureau of Labor statistics show that 11 of the 15 fastest growing occupations require some college, and nine of those require an associate or bachelor’s degree. “With the nation’s growing demand for a more highly educated and skilled workforce, postsecondary degrees and credentials have shifted from being a commodity reserved for the privileged few to an urgent necessity for a broad cross-section of the United States population.”

Most working adults find themselves in one of these three opportunity populations, as part of the “broad cross-section” of the United States. And the best way for working adults to ensure that they remain a viable, important part of the US workforce is to continue their education, attaining a high-quality postsecondary certificate or a degree.

Businesses also have a stake in their employees’ postsecondary education. When employers use a tuition assistance program to support higher education attainment for all employees, across diversified demographic groups, they will find multiple benefits. They will find a diverse population of highly skilled and educated workers that makes their business stronger and more competitive in the global market. They will find a stronger economy with highly educated workers who contribute financially to the economy, tax base and society as a whole. Business growth and best practices complement the national education goals. “The degree attainment goals set forth by the federal government and by the Lumina Foundation provide the public with targets that may arguably contribute to the sustainability, growth and prosperity of the nation.”