Postsecondary Strength: 2020 Celebrations and a Few Concerns | Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Postsecondary Strength: 2020 Celebrations and a Few Concerns

The Council on Postsecondary Education’s 2020 Stronger By Degrees Progress Report offers progress worth celebrating in overall educational attainment, KCTCS graduation rates, and STEM+H degrees, along with slower progress on bachelor graduation rates and a concerning decline in recent high school graduates enrolling in higher education. Here comes a closer look at those developments.

Overall Attainment

46.9% of Kentucky adults ages 25-64 held a postsecondary degree or certificate in 2018, up from 43.6% in 2015. If we sustain that rate of improvement for 12 more years, Kentucky will reach our ambitious 2030 goal of 60% attainment. Following CPE practice, the chart below uses attainment rates reported by the Lumina Foundation.

We can also see the main ways Kentucky has been raising those numbers by looking at awarded degrees and other credentials. Here, KCTCS is on track to meet CPE’s 2021 targets of diplomas, certificates and associate degrees, while public universities are increasing bachelors’ degrees at a rate that is not fast enough to meet their target unless improvements accelerate.

KCTCS Graduations

A 33.9% graduation rate for 2019 puts the Kentucky Community and Technical College System very close to meeting its 2021 target of a 34.0% three-year graduation rate. That rate includes diplomas, certificates, and associate degrees awarded by KCTCS.

For underrepresented minority students and for low-income students, KCTCS graduation rates have been rising faster than overall, so that 2019 rates already meet the 2021 targets. The chart below has stars over those early achievements.

STEM+H Degrees

6,685 bachelor degrees awarded in 2019 were in targeted science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health fields, often called STEM+H, putting Kentucky’s public universities already above their 2021 targets.

13,115 diplomas, certificates, and associate degrees awarded by KCTCS were also in STEM+H fields, showing improvement at a pace that will meet the 2021 targets if sustained.

Slower Bachelor Degree Progress

Kentucky’s public universities have increased their bachelor program graduation rates, but not at the pace needed to meet Kentucky’s 2021 targets for all students, low-income students, or underrepresented minority students. That’s cause for some concern.

Declining College-Going Rates

51.7% of recent-Kentucky high school graduates enrolled at KCTCS or public universities in 2018 to continue their educations. That’s down from 55.0% in 2015, and reason for concern both for young adults who may need greater preparation for success and for our commonwealth overall, which needs the rising generation to be fully equipped to contribute to our economy and communities. It also raises concerns about our long-term ability to meet our attainment goals. If young Kentuckians don’t enter the postsecondary “pipeline” in higher numbers, it will become increasingly difficult to raise the number of Kentuckians earning degrees and other credentials in coming years. That difficulty may be even greater because adults 25-64 are also enrolling at lower rates.

 

Two More Thoughts

First, there’s much more to see and think about in the complete Stronger By Degrees Progress Report. I recommend giving it a closer look.

Second, all of the progress reported here may be harder to continue over the next few years. Handling a pandemic will make learning and teaching harder, and managing a rising recession may make it even harder to find the resources to keep Kentucky higher education strong. Keeping and accelerating the improvements we’re celebrating today will take shared and sustained efforts, backed by a clear understanding of how important higher attainment is to our shared futures.

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