Yesterday, fellow think tank Growth and Justice issued a press release and op-ed by its president, Dane Smith, about the need for Minnesota’s next governor to focus on higher education attainment. They couldn’t be more on point.
Education has traditionally been the primary means for both social mobility and the development of human capital in the United States. Over the last decade empirical research has shown that wage stagnation and the decline of low-skill jobs have made higher education an increasingly necessary prerequisite to an individual’s economic and social mobility as well as to the country’s capacity for productivity and innovation.
Alice Seagren, Minnesota Department of Education commissioner, outlined Minnesota’s increased need for higher education attainment: “In 1950, 80 percent of the jobs in the United States were classified as unskilled. Today, 85 percent of the jobs in America are classified as skilled.” Currently, less than 50 percent of adults aged 25-34 have obtained a post-secondary degree, meaning our economy will be burdened by an under supply of college graduates.
Higher education attainment promotes social mobility and helps develop human capital by reducing disparities based on socioeconomic status. Commissioner Seagren agrees: “Moving up in our society and in our state today is increasingly connected to moving up educationally.”
Nonetheless, economic and social policy research indicates that those who currently attain college degrees are significantly more likely to be from middle- and upper-income backgrounds. Consequently, in order to supply opportunities for social mobility and train workers for the skilled jobs that drive our state’s economy policymakers need to provide both access to quality K-12 education as well as tools to help students (especially low-income students) persist through their post-secondary degree. Without this sort of integrated education system we risk creating a permanent underclass of unskilled workers in a skilled economy.