Our capacity to raise the level of degree completion in the future will depend on our state and institutional leaders’ ability to guide an increasingly diverse student population through the educational pipeline, says a report released this month from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

Though formidable challenges lie ahead to increasing educational attainment, the SREB region, which includes Florida and 15 other southeastern states, has made progress in recent years in areas like college enrollment and completion.  Between 2006 and 2011, overall college enrollment rose 23% in SREB states, largely due to gains made by minority students.  Hispanic student enrollment in postsecondary institutions jumped 54% during that span while Black student enrollment increased 33%.

Overall college completion rates improved in SREB states as well, with associates and bachelor’s degree production up 35.4% and 17.9% respectively from 2006 to 2011.  And as was the case with college enrollments, the performance of minority students elevated the performance among SREB states in the number of degrees earned by pushing completions to new heights while increasing their share among degree earners.

To reach educational goals for 2013 and beyond, SREB states must promote statewide and institutional efforts that emphasize the success of our fastest growing populations of students, according to the report.  Between 2012 and 2022, the region is expected to grow by 13.4 million people with distinct increases in Black and Hispanic residents.  A continued shift in demographics will result in a more diverse education system.  By 2020, the report claims more than half of the region’s high school graduates will be represented by non-white students.  Helping these students be prepared for college will be necessary to improving overall educational attainment, as high school and college completion rates are still far behind averages for the region.

In addition to an increasingly diverse population, SREB states have also seen poverty rates grow.  In 2011, a total of 7.3 million children (26%) age 18 and under lived in poverty, an increase of 1.2 million children from 2005.  While college prices in the southeast lag national averages (94% of the U.S. median), median household incomes are only 85% of the U.S. average.  This trend, combined with decreasing state appropriations for postsecondary education and increased tuition prices seen in recent years, will likely pose a challenge for increasing educational attainment down the road as families struggle to find ways to come up with cash for college.

Some eye-opening trends for Florida include:

  • From 2012 to 2022, Florida’s population is projected to increase by 26%, which is twice the rate of all SREB states combined.
  • For the 2019-20 school year, 58% of Florida’s high school graduates will represent non-white racial and ethnic groups (higher than SREB average of 53%).
  • In 2011, 37% of Florida’s working-age adult population held an associate’s degree or higher, 5th highest among the 16 SREB states.  Florida, however, was one of only two states in the region (including Georgia) not to see an increase in postsecondary attainment since 2005.
  • Postsecondary attainment for Hispanic working-age adults in Florida was 31% in 2011, 10% higher than all SREB states and 21% higher than the U.S. average.
  • Since the economic downturn, poverty levels among children in Florida increased from 18% to 25%, the largest increase among all other SREB states.

For more data on key educational outcomes in the 16 SREB member states, you may download a copy of the 2013 Fact Book on Higher Education here. SREB also publishes individual reports of its member states; you can find the one for Florida here.

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