By Jamie Merisotis
A new report on college attainment contains good and bad news for New York. On the positive side, the demand for skilled workers is growing, and thousands of jobs are available around the state. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough college-educated residents to fill those positions, and unless the pace of attainment picks up, New York won’t have enough talent to meet its future workforce needs.
According to our report, “A Stronger Nation through Higher Education,” New York ranks 11th in the nation for college attainment, with 44.6 percent of working-age adults (ages 25 to 64) holding at least an associate degree as of 2011. That figure is up from 2010, when the rate was 44.1 percent, but represented a dip from state’s 2009 attainment rate of 44.6 percent. In short, New York is not gaining enough ground.
While it’s good to see degree attainment moving in the right direction, research from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce finds that 63 percent of all jobs in New York will require postsecondary education by 2018. This means that New York is facing a talent gap, and none of the state’s largest metro areas is immune from it. In the Buffalo metro area, 44.82 percent of adults have at least a two-year degree, compared to 49.27 percent in Albany, 47.72 percent in Rochester and 46.01 percent in New York-Long Island.
New York’s attainment gap may not seem particularly alarming until you consider the evidence that employers simply can’t find enough skilled people to fill existing job openings. A scan of statewide classified ads reveals that there are nearly 2,400 job openings requiring at least a two-year degree in the fields of engineering, health care and information technology alone.
So what can New York do to produce more talent? For starters, new models of student financial support must be created. More leaders must engage on making college more affordable, making costs more predictable and transparent, providing incentives for completion and aligning federal, state and institutional policies.
New York also needs more legislators focused on increasing attainment for underserved populations. The matter of equity is critical. Degree attainment rates in New York continue to be unbalanced across races and ethnicities.
New York must also do a better job aligning postsecondary attainment and the labor market. We encourage employers, chamber officials and education leaders to aggressively collaborate to increase attainment, better matching what students know with what employers need.
We applaud the work of organizations like Say Yes to Education Buffalo. This work isn’t easy, but the rewards for success will be great. That’s why we encourage more policy makers, business executives, civic leaders and higher education institutions to join in this effort.
Jamie Merisotis is president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation.