Help Wanted: The Rising Demand for College Graduates and What Delaware’s Doing About It
It’s well known – perhaps intuitive – that college graduates earn significantly more than their peers who lack a postsecondary degree. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, the median income for a young adult with a bachelor’s degree was $45,000. This is compared with $21,000 for high-school dropouts and $30,000 for young adults with only a high-school diploma. Over the course of a worker’s lifetime, the earnings differential between the high school- and college-educated workers is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not the millions.
It is likely that this earning gap will soon widen, according to a recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The study projects that, over the next eight years, the percentage of jobs requiring only a high-school diploma will shrink while the demand for college-educated workers will increase. This continues a long trend in labor-force economics. Since 1973, the percentage of jobs requiring only a high-school diploma has dropped from 72% to 41%. By 2018, the study estimates that share of jobs nationwide will drop to 37%.
In Delaware specifically, the study projects the largest growth in health science (20%) and information technology (18%). At the same time, the study predicts anemic growth in fields that less frequently require a postsecondary degree. Agriculture and transportation jobs will grow at less than half the rate of population (4%, with population growth projected to grow 9.7% by 2020), adding just 700 and 1,300 new jobs, respectively. The manufacturing industry, meanwhile, is projected to shed 1,800 jobs by 2018, a 7% reduction in that industry’s workforce.
For Delaware to remain competitive, it will be essential to produce a workforce that better meets economic demand. Currently, 59% of Delaware’s high school graduates enroll in college, which is well behind the national average of 70%. One of the state’s Race to the Top goals is to close this enrollment gap by 2014. This goal will be advanced in tandem with a goal of broadening the pool of high school graduates, raising the graduation rate from 82% to 90% for the senior class entering high school in 2014. Some of the most promising initiatives to increase college readiness include:
- Districts have allocated nearly $3.5 million for the development and implementation of more advanced coursework in high schools;
- Over $2 million was allocated at the district level towards guidance support services, such as helping students choose a college-aligned course load, identify potential colleges and programs, and apply for federal financial aid.
- The state allocated $1.8 million to provide a school-day administration of the SAT for every high school junior. In its first year of implementation, the percentage of students taking the SAT increased from 36% to 93%.
Preparing students for the information-based economy will require innovative approaches to the scope, sequence, and model of secondary education, as well as a fulsome investment in college-level coursework for advanced students and acceleration for students falling behind. One example with more of a track record than RttT initiatives is Conrad Schools of Science. In 2006, Red Clay converted Conrad Middle School, one of the lowest-achieving schools in Delaware, into a magnet middle and high school. Using labor-force projections and relying on partnerships with local industries, the district reopened Conrad with a focus on biotechnology and health services. Since the restart, ELA and math scores have increased 15% and 45%, respectively. More importantly, the school is better preparing its graduates for the jobs demanded in the 21st century Delaware economy.