Why we need to boost workforce education

A new effort calls for 65% of NH’s working-age population to hold a postsecondary credential or degree by 2025

New Hampshire faces many of the same demographic headwinds as other New England states, including an aging workforce, declines in the number of high school graduates, a change in the socioeconomic profile of the shrinking K-12 pipeline, and an end of the in-migration of highly educated workers and their families that had fueled the economy for decades.

Given these challenges, the New Hampshire Coalition for Business & Education was established by business, education and philanthropic leaders a little more than two years ago with a commitment to improve education in New Hampshire – both the approach to learning and the outcomes – so that New Hampshire businesses and our economy can remain healthy and competitive.

The initial focus was to support initiatives such as embracing increased rigor in expectations and accountability for K-12 learning, including innovation and flexibility in delivery of that learning as demonstrated by our leadership in adopting competency-based education and support for early childhood intervention. 

While the situation is more acute in New England, there is national recognition of the need to enhance and grow our workforce, highlighted by the Lumina Foundation’s call for 60 percent of the working-age population attaining a high-quality credential or degree by 2025. This is considered a “stretch” goal, but in working with the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, we learned New Hampshire’s needs are even greater.

In order to sustain the quality of life we now enjoy, we are projected to need at least 95,000 more New Hampshire adults with a postsecondary degree/credential. Currently 47 percent of our adults hold a degree, and it is estimated another 4 to 6 percent have earned a certificate or credential that provides significant additional compensation.

Moreover, the benefits of a highly educated workforce go well beyond the economic impact. A more highly educated population has lower rates of crime and poverty (and associated need for governmental funding) and higher levels of health and civic engagement.

Recognizing these facts, and with documentation of the economic imperative, the coalition approved its overarching goal: that 65 percent of the state’s 25- to 64-year-old population holds a high-quality postsecondary credential or degree by the year 2025.

The overall vision for this effort – which we call 65×25 – is that New Hampshire’s citizens have the education necessary to meet their life goals, as well as the current and future economic needs of the state. Thus we will strive to not only attain the 65 percent goal, but put in place the steppingstones of an infrastructure that will enable New Hampshire to sustain that momentum for decades to come.

Achieving the goal will take a comprehensive effort and engage leaders from all sectors, creating true public-private partnerships that include a commitment of resources and willingness to adapt new approaches.

The higher education community has demonstrated its willingness to contribute, taking actions such as pledging to double the number of STEM graduates, enhancing transfer/dual admission between two- and four-year schools, and building upon longstanding efforts to provide credit for prior learning and competency-based education.

Despite these efforts, more than half of our high school graduates pursuing a four-year degree enroll out-of-state, one of the highest rates in the country, and history indicates they are far less likely to return to New Hampshire for employment and to raise a family.

During the recent Business and Industry Leadership Summit that engaged senior management from New Hampshire businesses and prominent elected officials, coalition representatives were asked what actions they could take to assist in attaining 65×25.

Knowing it will take the support of individuals from all sectors if we are to be successful, we pose these questions and ask what you can do to help:

• Can your organization or business strengthen the connections among local school districts, colleges/schools and businesses?

• Can your organization or business, in partnership with colleges or universities, provide professional development for your current employees that leads to certifiable new skills and internal promotion opportunities?

• Can your organization or business sponsor an internship for an individual currently pursuing postsecondary education?

• Will you contribute to scholarship and grant programs that encourage our residents to pursue postsecondary education here and then “stay, work and play” in New Hampshire? 

Thank you for considering ways you can join our movement to preserve and enhance the quality of life in New Hampshire we all cherish. 

Tom Raffio, CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, is chair of the NH Board of Education and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business & Education. For more information on the coalition, visit nhcbe.org. 

Categories: Opinion