Mixed Results in 55,000 Degrees Progress Report

Louisville’s 55,000 Degrees initiative—which aims to dramatically increase the number of degrees in Jefferson County by the year 2020—has released its second annual progress report and the results are mixed.

The 55,000 Degrees initiative—created in 2010—is a public-private partnership chaired by Mayor Greg Fischer. The results of last year’s progress report showed the city was improving in the number of working-age adults between 25 to 64 years-old who earned an associates degree or higher.

(Read the 2012 55,000 Degrees progress report here.)

The 2012 progress report is based on recent Census data between 2010 and 2011 and shows the number of working-age adults with a degree dropped by nearly 4,000 from 40.1 to 38.9 percent, which is “clearly in the wrong direction,” the report says.

“That’s in contrast to the previous decade where every year we were seeing a decade where every year we were seeing an increase in the number of our working age adults with college degrees,” said Mary Gwen Wheeler, executive director of 55,000 Degrees.

At this rate, around 45 percent of the working-age population will have a college degree by 2020, missing the 50 percent goal.

However, the total number of degrees being earned at regional institutions has increased, with the largest climb by associate degrees with grew nearly 6 percent.

The 2012 progress report shows the number of associate degrees grew by more than 2,500 and graduate degrees increased by nearly 2,600 but at the same time the number of bachelor’s degrees fell by almost 9,000.

The report says one possible cause for the loss of bachelor’s degrees is the lack of competitive wages in the city. A study by the Greater Louisville Project this year showed Louisville lags behind several peer cities in offering competitive wage growth.

Further, Louisville has over 96,000 working-age adults who have started college but not yet completed their degrees, the report shows. This group is the most promising to reaching the 2020 goal, said Wheeler.

“We really must focus on those that are enrolled actually completing and actually supporting them until they can complete,” she said.

This includes businesses stepping up to help employees finish their degrees, she said.

On the plus side, more Jefferson County Public Schools students are graduating college and career ready according to the latest state assessments. In the past two years there has also been a 24 percent increase in working-age adults enrolling in college, which report authors say is crucial to meeting the 2020 goals set by 55,000 Degrees.

Finally, the net cost of college is leveling off and is down at some two-year institutions.

Of the five objective areas measured by 55,000 Degrees, Wheeler said there has been progress made in each.

“We think that we’re working on the right path but it hasn’t shown up yet in the overall population numbers,” she said.

To see the full report click here.

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama host middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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