L.A.’s economy depends on higher education
January 23, 2013 | Written by: Gary Toebben, President & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Jamie P. Merisotis, President & CEO, Lumina Foundation
Jamie P. Merisotis is President and CEO of Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation committed solely to enrolling and graduating more students from college.
Los Angeles is a great American city. It’s been that way for decades.
But as we embark on a new year, a significant challenge lingers. Education attainment — or lack thereof — is poised to singlehandedly decide our economic future.
When it comes to education beyond high school, Los Angeles ranks a disappointing 14th among the nation’s 20 most populous metropolitan areas. Fewer than four out of every 10 adults (38.9 percent) hold at least an associate degree. That’s troubling when you consider a recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, which found that 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training by 2020.
The gap between where Los Angeles is and where it needs to be is significant. This challenge requires local leaders to accept and act upon the critical connection between economic prosperity and education beyond high school. Some still question that connection, but the Great Recession made this relationship painfully clear.
During the Great Recession, Americans with a high school education or less lost 5.6 million jobs. And this same group has lost another 230,000 jobs during our slow recovery since 2009. By comparison, Americans with a bachelor’s degree or above experienced a gain of 187,000 jobs during the recession and an increase of more than two million jobs during the recovery. That’s good news for area residents with degrees and certificates, but L.A. desperately needs more of them.
In the year ahead, area leaders must work together to find a way to prepare more people for a labor market that requires a new level of knowledge and skills. That starts by more effectively preparing students for success beyond high school and by making college more affordable.
It also requires a redesign of our educational institutions that provides for accelerated degree programs and greater opportunity for success among low-income students, first-generation students, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants and adults looking to re-train for new career opportunities.These changes won’t be easy and the process will require new dialogue (and urgency) between policymakers and corporate, civic, educational and philanthropic organizations. Fortunately, we have several of the key building blocks already in place.
In February 2010, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce convened the business, education, civic and nonprofit sectors for a signed commitment to work toward three goals: ensuring all students graduate from high school, have access to and are prepared for success in college, and have access to sustainable careers.The L.A. Compact calls for an improved education system that supports students on pathways to successful careers, starting in the very early stages of life and continuing through high school and college.Since the creation of the L.A. Compact, LAUSD graduation rates have increased from 52 percent to 64 percent in three years. That’s a promising start, but much more remains to be done to ensure that 100 percent of students graduate college and are career-ready.
The statewide policy successes of SB 1143, SB 1456 and SB 1440 have set the stage for significant transformation in California’s community college system. However, the impact will not be felt unless these policies are effectively implemented within the state-wide system, regional district and individual colleges.Through the L.A. Compact’s collaborative process, we can achieve the vision by 2025 of having all young people — regardless of race, color, creed, socioeconomic or immigration status — fully prepared to choose a career that is personally fulfilling and economically rewarding.
If we achieve the L.A. Compact goals, then we will have paved the way for local companies to find homegrown talent to hire talent that will power their companies forward and as a result, our economy.Every large metro area across America is grappling with the challenge of how to grow jobs, investment and individual opportunity. The challenge in Los Angeles is acute. To succeed, Los Angeles desperately needs to boost education attainment to remain globally competitive and ensure a prosperous future economy.