WHY THIS MATTERS

The most powerful indicator of economic development and healthy communities is the number of adults with a high-quality postsecondary credential.” 

-Florida Higher Education Coordinating Council, 2016 Annual Report

Increasing educational achievement beyond high school—especially for low-income students, adult learners, and other students outside the mold of the “traditional” college student—holds the greatest promise for expanding economic prosperity for all Floridians and building the talent pool needed to fuel Florida’s dynamic economy.

Will Florida be ready for the future?

Labor economists predict that 60% of jobs will require a postsecondary credential by 2025. Only 46.7% of working-age (ages 25-64) Floridians currently hold such a credential. At Florida’s current rate of postsecondary attainment growth, our residents will not be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow1.

Florida employers are already struggling to find qualified candidates. According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, 500,000 Floridians were jobless in 2016, even though 260,000 jobs went unfilled. Unless we act now, this skills gap will only grow.

Education Beyond High School Is Essential

While a high school diploma was once a key to the middle class, that is no longer the case. Since the 2008 recession, the growth for jobs requiring only a high school diploma has declined. By contrast, 8.4 million jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree were added2:

Jobs requiring only a high school diploma often come with lower wages. The median annual earnings for Floridians with no more than a high school diploma is about $27,000 a year. That’s not much higher than the federal poverty rate for a family of four ($24,250, 2015).

The key to higher wages is higher education:

Growing Communities through Postsecondary Attainment

Communities benefit when they increase the proportion of residents with a postsecondary credential. They enjoy a higher tax base, lower crime rates, and healthier residents. They are also better positioned to attract employers offering good paying jobs 4.

“We’ve found [local college access network] Earn Up has become a selling point in attracting potential employers. It shows how our community is working together across sectors to solve the workforce development problem.”

– Patrick Murphy, Manager of Earn Up & JAXUSA Partnership, Workforce Development

The Changing Face of College Students

When people hear the term “college student,” they tend to think of an 18-year-old high school graduate, but the postsecondary student landscape has changed. These days, the majority of students now juggle some combination of school, work, and family obligations. These competing obligations pose complex challenges for today’s students.

The Equity Gap

Florida is the third most populous state in the nation, yet we rank only 30th in the proportion of working-age adults with a postsecondary degree. To boost education attainment beyond high school, we need to close opportunity gaps for low-income students, students of color, and other student groups underrepresented in higher education.

Disparities in education attainment persist in Florida:

  • Degree attainment: Although 42% of Florida’s population is non-white, degree attainment of African American and Hispanic Floridians lags behind white and Asian Floridians by double digits.
  • High school graduation: The high school graduation rate for low-income students in 2016 was 70.3%, compared to 85.6% for their non-low-income peers.
  • Early college success: Only 57.8% of low-income students successfully complete a full year of college credit in two years’ time, compared to 70.2% of their non-low-income peers.

To build the talent pool needed for the 21st century global economy, Florida needs to close these and other equity gaps for our most vulnerable students.


1 US Census Bureau, Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, Lumina Foundation Stronger Nation Report

2 Source: America’s Divided Recovery, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Current Population Survey, 2007-2016

3 Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016); Florida Education & Training Placement Information Program (2014)

4 Education Pays 2016: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society (Ma, Pender & Welch, College Board, 2016)

5 First Generation College-Goer: Helios Education Foundation; Adult students: US Department of Education, 2011; Part-time: National Student Clearinghouse, 2013-2017; Low-income: IPEDS, 2013-2014, % of Fall enrollment students receiving Pell Grants

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