Over the last generation, Kentucky has seen a lot of success when it comes to boosting the education level of our workforce.
Since 1994, according to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), the number of those employed who have a bachelor’s degree has jumped 80 percent, while those with a high school diploma or less has dropped by more than tenth.
That’s a trend that needs to continue, because CPE estimates that, by the year 2020, more than half of Kentucky’s jobs will require at least some college experience.
Earlier this year, CPE and the newly formed Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics offered separate reports that give us a much clearer picture of just how important postsecondary education is in the commonwealth.
The center’s report is unique, because it marks the first time the state has tied postsecondary data to actual employment numbers. In this case, it looked at the five-year progress of those who completed their public or private postsecondary degree at a Kentucky college or university in 2006 and were still working here in 2011.
To begin with, the report found that just under two-thirds of the 2006 graduates stayed in Kentucky. Not surprisingly, most of those who lived here before going to college remained, and we picked up about a fifth of those who came to Kentucky for college and liked what they saw after they got their degree. The one area where this trend breaks downs is among those who got their doctorate in 2006. Only a third were still working in Kentucky five years later.
The report added that the leading industries for the 2006 graduates were education and health and social services. It also found that those obtaining a bachelor’s degree earned about $4,000 more than those getting an associate’s degree, while those with master’s degrees earned $12,000 more than those with a bachelor’s.
The CPE report complements these findings by taking a somewhat different look at the workforce. It showed, for example, that the starting salary for those with a four-year degree in 2011 was $44,000, which was nearly double the starting salary for high-school dropouts, who earned $24,600.
Over time, that income disparity really begins to add up. Those with a bachelor’s degree will earn $879,000 more than those with just a high school diploma, assuming each has a 40-year career and one percent annual raises. Someone with a graduate degree will earn $1.34 million more than those with no college experience.
Those with less education, not surprisingly, are hit hardest when the economy is in a downturn. A Georgetown University study from last summer found that people with a high school diploma or less held 80 percent of the 7.2 million jobs lost during the last recession. Jobs for those with a bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, actually increased by 187,000.
Between 2010, when the country’s economic recovery began, and 2012, jobs for those with a bachelor’s degree rose by two million, while those requiring only a high school education went down by another 230,000. The unemployment rate for high school graduates entering the workforce was 24 percent.
Although not tied directly to college education, another report this winter from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives found that our libraries are proving to be as popular as ever, even in this electronic age.
Nearly 20 million books were checked out in 2012, and 1.26 million children attended programs designed for them, which was a 3.5 percent increase over 2011. There were also 4,500 computers offered free of charge, and libraries hosted 58,000 community meetings.
A few years ago, a popular slogan in state government was that “education pays.” These reports underscore the importance of that – and they also show that our citizens are taking it to heart more than ever. Our goal as a state is to continue finding ways to make this process as easy and affordable as possible. That has always been a top priority of mine, but it has become even more of a focus as we look for ways to boost the number of four-year degrees here in the mountains. I will not be content until we have more options available to our students.