Column: Florida's economic future depends on a new education goal

Published Dec. 6, 2016

The Sunshine State has a pretty sunny outlook when it comes to jobs because it already has recognized the importance of higher education to its future. But to realize its full potential, Florida has to take one more step.

It's time to pursue a higher goal for higher education attainment.

Attainment refers to the percentage of the adult population that has a post-secondary credential, meaning an associate's or bachelor's degree or a high-quality professional certificate. In this technology-driven world in which we live, any state's economy depends on its attainment rate because the number of jobs that require post-secondary education is only going up.

So here's what that means in Florida. Today, roughly 46 percent of adults in Florida ages 25 to 64 have a post-secondary credential. In slightly less than a decade, by 2025, more than 60 percent of Florida's jobs will require a post-secondary degree or credential. Closing this gap is essential to help support the workforce needs of Florida's job creators.

Thanks to Gov. Rick Scott, the Legislature and the bodies governing Florida's education systems, we have made incredible strides. Performance funding, developmental education reform and college affordability initiatives are putting a postsecondary degree or credential within the grasp of more Floridians. And the state's college and university systems are working hard to improve graduation rates. Florida now leads the 10 largest states in having the best graduation rates among our universities, a major accomplishment! But the reality is Florida will need an additional 1.4 million skilled workers by 2025.

So it's time to be bold and set a higher standard.

The Higher Education Coordinating Council — with the endorsement and backing of the Florida Chamber Foundation, the Florida College Access Network and the Florida Philanthropic Network — has set a goal of reaching a minimum 55 percent attainment rate among our 25- to 64-year-old population by 2025, with the possibility of increasing this goal in coming months based on additional data we are analyzing. In order to be successful achieving this goal, we must address gaps that exist between white and minority adults and urban and rural adults.

While this statewide goal is new for Florida, the work, already under way, is not. The goal will be an opportunity for all our education, government and business institutions to work together across the entire spectrum of education. The only way to move this needle is if we collaborate and measure our progress. We will intensify this work in the coming year to help meet the new goal and to assure that all prospective students, including working adults, have access to affordable programs that lead to quality credentials. The state also can help assure that students get full recognition for all of their learning, whether it was obtained at an institution, in the military or on a job.

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This goal is challenging. It's quantifiable, and it can drive our work for a long period, serving as the guidepost for strategic planning, budgeting practices and state policy initiatives across all institutions. The Higher Education Coordinating Council will be encouraging all institutions to incorporate this goal into the statewide planning functions across all institutions and will eagerly serve as a conduit for the institutions to collaborate.

There's a lot at stake. Closing the attainment gap is vital to closing the talent gap, attracting new business, expanding opportunities for Florida families and building a vibrant economy for the 21st century. This is a goal we all need to embrace.

Alan Levine is chairman of the Florida Higher Education Coordinating Council and serves on the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida. He is the president/CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance.