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Economic Recovery Leaves Non-College Educated Workforce Behind

July 13th, 2016

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More than 99 percent of the 11.6 million jobs created during the recovery following the Great Recession were filled by workers with at least some college education, according a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Workers holding only a high school diploma or less added only 80,000 jobs since 2007, but 5.6 million of the 7.2 million jobs lost during the recession were for workers in this category, amounting to a recovery rate of only one percent.

On the other hand, individuals with graduate degrees gained 3.8 million jobs, those with bachelor’s degrees added 4.6 million jobs, and those with associate’s degrees gained 3.1 million jobs. Around 65 percent of the total U.S. workforce is comprised today of workers with at least some college education, and 57 percent of all wages are earned by bachelor’s degree holders, the report found.

The report notes, “These divergent trends did not begin with the Great Recession, but the recession and subsequent recovery have intensified the long-term trends of differential opportunities between workers with and without a college education, reinforced by skill-biased technological and structural change.”

Implications for Nevada

These findings are particularly troubling for Nevada, where slightly more than one-third of the state’s population has less than a high school diploma. In addition, graduation rates from both the state’s high schools and public colleges remain low. The U.S. Department of Education reported in December 2015 that the Silver State’s high school graduation rate of just 70 percent is the third lowest in the nation and even lower for students of color. The graduation rate for Latinos is only 65 percent. The graduation rate for African Americans is only 54 percent, the lowest in the U.S. and far lower than the national average of 73 percent. Nevada’s graduation rate for students with limited English proficiency was 29 percent, the second lowest in the nation behind Arizona.

Recent data indicates that less than half (48.5 percent) of Nevada’s high school graduates matriculate into Nevada’s public universities. Even if some matriculate out-of-state or into Nevada’s private universities, a significant share of high school graduates go straight into the workforce.

According to U.S. News & World Report, UNLV has a four-year graduation rate of 14 percent, UNR has a four-year graduation rate of 21 percent and Nevada State College has a four-year graduation rate of just 5 percent.

Role of Community Colleges

While the number of jobs for associate’s degree holders is increasing, community colleges across the country are struggling to help students attain post-secondary degrees. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Institution Data System (IPEDS) shows that less than 31 percent of all community college students will graduate within three years. Moreover, according to a recent article from the Brookings Institution, only 20 percent of community college students will eventually transfer-out to enroll in a four-year college.

The numbers at Nevada’s public community colleges are even lower, according to information from IPEDS. Table 1 shows the overall graduation rates and transfer-out rates for the state’s four community colleges in 2012.

Table 1: Graduation and Transfer-Out Rates at Community Colleges in Nevada

 School  Location Graduation Rate within Three Years  Transfer-Out Rate
College of Southern Nevada Las Vegas 7% 16%
Western Nevada College Carson City 17% 14%
Great Basin College Elko 21% 17%
Truckee Meadows Community College Reno 30% 14%

The Brookings report notes that Nevada is one of several states taking strides to address the low transfer-out rates at its community colleges. In particular, the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents has implemented three key policies that aimed at increasing the number of students transferring from a community college to one of the state’s public colleges (UNLV, UNR or Nevada State College):

  1. Transferable Core of Lower Division Courses: Introductory and lower-level course credits in general studies curriculum earned at a community college will be accepted at four-year colleges.
  2. Statewide Common Course Numbering: This program is designed to help community college students course plan for their target four-year institution. Data from IPEDS and the Brookings Institution suggest that common course numbering does increase transfer rates.
  3. Guaranteed Transfer of the Associate’s Degree: According to state law and the Board of Regents, students entering a four-year public college with an associate’s degree will be granted junior status.

However, the author of the Brookings report, Adela Soliz, does not believe that these changes will ultimately redress the barriers keeping community college students from successfully transferring to a four-year college, nor will lowering the cost of tuition at community colleges. Soliz writes, “Reducing the cost of community college will only increase educational attainment if coupled with policies that improve student outcomes such as persistence, degree completion, and transfer. Policies that address the problems of complexity and lack of structure at community colleges have clear potential to improve student outcomes.

Policy Solutions for Nevada

Nevada’s policy-makers should consider bolstering support programs that bolster post-secondary opportunities and workforce development, such as:

  • The STEM Workforce Challenge Grant. Housed in the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology, this grant program aims to build partnerships between industry and workforce training providers. Nine such grants totaling over $1.3 million in investments from the State, higher education institutions and their partners were awarded to create STEM workforce training programs in all parts of the state.
  • Need-based financial aid programs. In 2015, the Nevada Legislature created the Silver State Opportunity Grant (Senate Bill 227), the state’s first ever need-based scholarship program, which provides assistance to low-income students attending Nevada State College and community colleges.
  • Career readiness programs. Jobs for America’s Graduates-Nevada (JAG-Nevada), a national nonprofit that now has an affiliate program here in Nevada. The high school based program targeting significantly under-resourced students is a data-driven, evidence-based model that raises graduation rates and prepares participants with work readiness skills, including preparing for an interview and working on credit recovery. “Having served over 700 students in 2015, JAG Nevada is expanding to 37 schools across Nevada, and serving 1, 200 youth. JAG is poised to expand to 50 schools across Nevada by 2017,” an April 2016 legislative update from the Nevada Department of Education noted. The program has reported an 83 percent graduation rate for both the class of 2015 and 2016, well above the state rate and also above the national average.
  • Dual credit opportunities for high school students. Dual credit programs can help high school students in transitioning to college and are a critical component of strengthening career readiness programming. Dual credit programs ease the transition process by allowing students to begin earning college credit while still in high school. Some research has found that dual credit students are more likely to graduate from college than non-participants. In 2015, the Nevada Legislature appropriated $3 million in Fiscal Year 2016 and $5 million in Fiscal Year 2017 for dual enrollment (and science, technology, mathematics, and engineering) programs (Senate Bill 515).
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