Help Wanted: The Rising Demand for College Graduates and What Delaware’s Doing About It

December 8th, 2011

Category: News

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.

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Dan Hay