A high school diploma still marks a critical education milestone in people’s lives. However, in today’s economy, it has lost its edge in providing individual workplace advantage and economic self-sufficiency.
Over the next 10 years, half of all new jobs in Washington state will require at least one year of college. In turn, a year of college education is the new minimum for success in almost any job. The two-year degree has become the standard for a well-paying job and a key stepping stone to a four-year university.
State demographics show we will not have enough educated people to fill tomorrow’s jobs if we rely solely on traditional-age students. While there are not enough prospective traditional students to fill the jobs requiring college-level work, there are 1.4 million adults in our state with a high school diploma or less.
This increase in educational requirements for good jobs, paired with changing demographics, obliged us, as a two-year college system, to attempt to engage with and increase educational attainment in broad segments of the population directly.
In 2005, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges conducted comprehensive research of the working age, low-skill, adult student population. The study, “Building Pathways to Success for Low-Skill Adult Students: Lessons for Community College Policy and Practice from a Statewide Longitudinal Tracking Study,” examined college-level attainment and post-college earnings.
We found those individuals who completed at least one year of college-credit courses and earned a certificate had a significant average annual earnings advantage:
• $7,000 for students who began in English as a Second Language (ESL)
• $8,500 for those who began in adult Basic Education (ABE) or GED
• $2,700 and $1,700 for those entering with a GED or high school diploma, respectively We coined this milestone — one-year of college-level courses and a certificate — the “tipping point,” both because of the earnings advantage and the groundwork laid for going even further in postsecondary attainment.
While community and technical colleges are the entry point for a broad range of students, not many students starting at low-skill levels ever reach the tipping point milestone. In fact, only about two in every 10 students starting in ABE or ESL achieve at least one year of college credit within five years.
Our research helped persuade the governor and legislature to provide increased funding for certain programs and resulted in a new training model.
Highlights of three tipping point researchbased, student-focused efforts include:
Student Achievement Initiative: In 2006- 07, after a year of planning, the Washington State Board adopted the Student Achievement Initiative, a new performance-measurement system that will reward the two-year colleges for moving students further and faster towards the tipping point, certificates, degrees and apprenticeships. In 2007-08, the colleges are embarking on a “learning year” to adopt and become familiar with the initiative. Over the next five years, the measures will be used to track student achievement, help colleges plan improvement strategies, and provide supportive evidence for best practices colleges can share with one another. Starting October 2009, colleges will receive incentive rewards for improving students’ preparation for college-level courses, building to a year of college credit; completing collegelevel math, and completing certificates, degrees, and apprenticeships.
I-BEST: Research found students learn literacy and job skills faster when they enroll in programs pairing ABE or ESL with work force (occupational skills or professionaltechnical) training. The Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) model allows students to spend less time in school and have clear pathways from entry-level jobs to higher-skilled and better-paying careers in high-demand fields.
Opportunity Grant Program: The Opportunity Grant program helps eligible, low-income students reach the tipping point and beyond with one-on-one advising, mentorship, tuition, fees, books and supplies to pursue education in approved high-wage, high-demand career pathways, such as construction, business, manufacturing and health care.
In 2006, the Washington State Legislature appropriated funds to create the Opportunity Grant pilot program. The pilot program showed excellent results with 73 percent retention and 843 low-income students participating in training for high-wage, high-demand career pathways.
In 2007, the Legislature expanded Opportunity Grant program funding to include all 34 community and technical colleges. The program expects to serve 4,000 full-time and part-time students in 2007-08. Higher education is vital to society and individuals. In Washington state, our economy and the success of everyone participating in it rests on our education system and depends on increasing educational attainment for all residents. For this reason, the college system is committed to creating more higher education opportunities and success for all residents across the state.
— Jan Yoshiwara is director, Education Services Division, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. This forum is sponsored in partnership with the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD).
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