Broadening community college’s reach

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A new report “Help Wanted: Postsecondary Education and Training Required” shows that a post-high school education is imperative for middle class earnings and standings. Further, they argue the only salvation is to help elevate low-income adults into college.

The report, written by Anthony P. Carnevale, Jeff Strohl, Nicole Smith for New Directions for Community Colleges, argues that for most of the 20th century, a high school degree was enough for a shot at middle-class status and wages, but today the American job market requires some post-secondary education or training.

Here are some states about the growing intellectual markets:

  • Between 1973 and 2007, the share of workers between 30 and 59 with at least some college increased from 28 percent to almost 60 percent. Over that same period, the share with a B.A. or better doubled from 16 percent to 32 percent.
  • The share of white-collar office jobs has risen from 30 percent to 40 percent since 1973. In 1973, only 38 percent of office workers had some kind of post-secondary education. Today 69 percent of office workers have some post-secondary education.
  • Since the 1970s, education and health care jobs have increased from 10 percent to almost 20 percent of all jobs. The share of education and health care jobs with at least some college increased from fewer than half in the 1970s to more than 75 percent today.
  • The share of technology jobs has doubled from roughly 4 percent to 8 percent of all jobs. In 1973, 63 percent of technology workers had at least some college, while 86 percent now have post-secondary education.

But industry has changed:

  • Since 1960, the factory share of the economy has fallen from 32 percent to 17 percent.
  • Natural resource jobs, including farming, fishing, forestry, and mining, are in decline both as a share of the economy and in actual jobs. Natural resource jobs accounted for about 5 percent of all jobs in 1959. These jobs had declined by more than two-thirds and now account for only about 1.5 percent of all jobs in the economy.
  • With the addition of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the size of the earth’s capitalist workforce has doubled, reducing the U.S. share of the world’s college-level workers from about 30 percent to 15 percent. And foreign college workers will be a lot cheaper than American workers for decades to come.
  • Census data show the United States is not producing college educated workers fast enough to replace retiring baby boomers. Between 1980 and 2000, we increased the share of workers with at least some college by 20 percent. At current rates of college enrollment, the share of workers with at least some college will increase by only 3 percent between 2000 and 2020.

The authors state that “If we want to increase the number of students who enroll and graduate from postsecondary institutions, the ‘low-hanging fruit’ are the more than half a million college-qualified students from working families who are lost along the way in high school.” As many as 11 million adults and out-of-school youth could benefit from post-secondary education and training, especially in community colleges, but they are unlikely to be served, they said

Low-income adults and out-of-school youth need more financial aid than traditional students, and adult students are more expensive because they need to integrate their studies with work and family needs.

They write “the worst-case scenario is that the financial strains emerging in higher education will result in a gradual abandonment of working families and nontraditional students in colleges. In an economy where good jobs require post-secondary education and training, the growing economic divide between those with and those without post-secondary education and training will continue to widen, fostering inter-generational reproduction of economic and cultural elites inimical to our democratic ethos and our worthiness for leadership in the global contest of cultures.”