Posted: March 04, 2019
by Kelly Ayotte and Ross Gittell
The recent report from the Economic Strategy Group of The Aspen Institute, entitled “Expanding Economic Opportunity for More Americans: Bipartisan Policies to Increase Work, Wages, and Skills,” highlights a set of important policy ideas on how we can expand economic opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.
The report is authored by a group of bipartisan leaders, including former Republican and Democratic Cabinet members and prominent liberal and conservative economists. The chapter entitled “A Policy Agenda to Develop Human Capital for the Modern Economy” is co-authored by Glenn Hubbard and Austan Goolsbee, both former heads of the Council of Economic Advisors (for George W. Bush and Barack Obama respectively). Although they come from very different political philosophies, they both agree that community colleges play a critical role in increasing economic opportunity and they advocate for expanding the role of, and our support for, community colleges to ensure that Americans of all ages have the education and training they need to hold a good paying job.
The good news is that New Hampshire is already focused on increasing the role of our community colleges and has made impressive gains, but there is still more we can do.
As described in the Aspen report, and as we are experiencing in NH, globalization and technological innovation have intensified the demand for college-educated workers. In NH, community college graduates earn 32 percent more than non-college educated workers (or over $500,000 over a lifetime) and are three times less likely to be unemployed. Our community college graduates have the highest median earnings and lowest unemployment rates in New England and are in the top 10 percent among community college graduates in the country in social mobility (moving from the bottom income quintile to the top).
Over three-quarters of recent NH community college graduates were employed in NH within three months of graduation, with a large number of others continuing their education. The high skill level and employability of NH’s community college graduates have contributed to NH having the third lowest unemployment rate in the nation and to our strong economy. Yet, recent data from the NH Department of Employment Security shows that there are many good paying jobs remaining unfilled for associate degree holders or higher because the demand for these graduates greatly exceeds the supply.
The workforce needs a higher level of labor market skill and more college-educated participants. In NH, community colleges have been central in educating and upskilling the state’s workforce. Community colleges offer flexible postsecondary education and training for all ages, including essential mid-career educational opportunities. They are also a gateway to four-year colleges for millions of students nationally and thousands in NH. More than 90 percent of students at NH’s community colleges are NH residents. They serve large numbers of first generation college students and are focused on affordability, with tuition on average at one-half the cost of pubic bachelor’s institutions. Yet, despite their promise and potential, community colleges are under intense resource pressures that constrain their impact and reach.
Currently, only 54 percent of working-age NH residents have attained some level of higher education achievement. NH rightly wants to increase that number to 65 percent by 2025. To do so, NH will need to lean heavily on its community colleges which serve all regions of the state and offer affordability, links to employers, dual credit opportunities for high school students, and convenience for working adults.
Community colleges have an ambitious and important agenda. It includes increasing the rates of degree completion and transfer, and more effectively addressing the needs of adult learners. Community colleges in NH are making progress on both of these fronts. We also have an opportunity to make a big difference by serving the large adult population (about one of every five) who started college but did not complete a degree that aligns with a well-paying career.
By supporting and increasing the capacity of our community colleges to serve students of all ages, we can build on NH’s current momentum and ensure an even brighter economic future for our state. Continued investment in NH’s community colleges will enable these institutions to help more young people gain advanced training and education allowing them to find a good paying job here in NH and meet their education and upskilling needs over the course of a lifetime.
Kelly Ayotte is a former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire and a member of The Aspen Institute’s Economic Strategy Group.
Ross Gittell is Chancellor of the Community College System of NH and Vice President of the New England Economic Partnership.