As former Mayor Jerry Abramson’s reign in Louisville came to a close, an ambitious goal was set: 55,000 Degrees. The hybrid business/education initiative is aimed at increasing the number of college degree holders in the city by 55,000 (with at least 40,000 being bachelor’s degrees) by 2020.
Today, 55k released a report showing that the initiative is not on pace. In fact, data from the 2011 American Community Survey indicates that 55k has stumbled backwards.
The percentage of working-age adults with associate degrees or higher dropped from 2010 to 2011, going from 40.1 percent to 38.9 percent. That decline reflects a loss of 9,000 bachelor’s degrees. And the biggest drop occurred among that coveted young professional group — 25- to 34-year-olds.
Mary Gwen Wheeler, executive director of 55,000 Degrees, along with Mayor Greg Fischer, have cited the economic downturn as one potential reason the recent degree drain occurred.
In a press release, Fischer stated that this was a period of low job-growth, meaning college graduates likely left to seek jobs elsewhere.
(Wages in Louisville have traditionally lagged behind other regional or “peer” cities.)
“We need good-paying jobs to keep and attract college graduates, and we need college graduates to attract companies and their good paying jobs,” Fischer stated. “We must focus on both fronts — adding jobs and college graduates — to reach our potential.”
Despite this loss in working-age adults, the report points out that some data indicates positive trends will materialize in the future.
For instance, the number of associate degrees completed in Louisville was up nearly 6 percent from 2009 to 2010. Graduate degrees rose by 5 percent, and bachelor’s degrees were up by less than 2 percent.
The report states that college enrollment among Louisville’s working-age adults has grown by 24 percent over the last two years.
Also, more JCPS graduates were deemed ready for college and a career, according to test scores.
The push for a college-educated population stems from the fact that globalization and technological advances have linked higher wages with higher education.
According to the 55k report, since the recession hit, 5.8 million jobs have been lost in the U.S. for workers with a high school education or less. Meanwhile, 2.2 million jobs have been gained for those with bachelor’s degrees.
Furthermore, workers with bachelor’s degrees or better earn nearly twice as much as those with a high school diploma.