“Not Just Kid Stuff Anymore: The Economic Imperative for More Adults to Complete College” by the Center for Law and Social Policy and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems revealed that the number of high school graduates in Massachusetts will decline by nearly 10 percent between now and 2020. We are one of 31 states which will experience a decline and one of thirteen that will experience a decline of between 5 and 10 percent.
What does this mean for the future of our workforce and for our economy?
- Massachusetts is a high educational attainment state, with growing employer demand for more workers that have at least some level post-secondary education or training.
- In fact, between 2008-2018, state labor demand will increase six times as much for college-educated workers (148,000 additional jobs) as for high school graduates and dropouts (25,000 additional jobs).
- However, recent high school graduates are our traditional source of such workers, and their numbers will decline in MA over the next decade.
- We therefore face an imperative to help many more adults complete college credentials in order to meet employer needs.
Over 60 percent of the workforce in 2020 is already in the workforce today. We will not be able to meet employer demand for college-educated workers by relying on high school graduates alone, especially if the size of this group is actually declining in our state.
While we certainly cannot afford to stop investing in quality public secondary education, the demographic shift in our population also makes a clear case for investing in the skills of our current adult workforce. We must help and support those with lower skills but who have the desire and ambition to gain more skills and a better job.
This means we need to:
- Invest in job training and placement, adult basic education, English language services, and transitions to post-secondary education and technical education.
- Address financial aid policies at the state and federal levels to make aid more accessible and responsive to the needs of adults who often juggle work, family, and school.
- Work with employers to identify jobs they have a hard time filling, and collaborate with them on appropriate training for these jobs.
Make no mistake, increasing public investments for any set of priorities is a difficult proposition in these times, when the rhetoric and often the fiscal reality is all about cuts. However, making these investments is not only the right thing to do for our communities and neighbors, it’s what we need to do to ensure our long-term economic competitiveness.