As a nation and a state, we are at a critical point in education. We have known for some time that we are preparing too few individuals for future jobs. In Arkansas, job projections in 2020 show that 59% of adults will need some post-secondary credential to be prepared for the workforce. In 2014, less than 40% of adult Arkansans possessed such credentials. Though progress is being made, the rate is much too slow to meet the projected need. Without a skilled workforce, jobs requiring those skills either do not materialize or they go to other states.
A recent report published by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce highlights the critical importance of increasing the level of postsecondary attainment in our state. According to the report, virtually all jobs created in the United States during the recovery from the Great Recession have gone to individuals with some education beyond high school. Of 11.6 million new jobs created, 3.8 million went to graduate degree holders, 4.6 million to bachelor’s degree holders and 3.1 million to those holding an associate’s degree.
In early 2015, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, in collaboration with the colleges and universities in our state, went to work to quantify the need for increased post-secondary attainment and establish a plan for moving forward. That plan, Closing the Gap 2020, to address this skills gap issue and quicken the pace to having a workforce-ready populace in the future was adopted by the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board in October 2015 and supports Governor Hutchinson’s goal to meet employer workforce needs.
This month, the Coordinating Board will consider two important next steps in the implementation of Closing the Gap 2020. The first of these steps is a lengthy document developed by approximately 100 leaders in higher education across the state working in seven different work groups. The implementation plan identifies a range of proven strategies that can be adopted by the Department and by institutions to achieve the goals enumerated in the master plan to increase student success and raise attainment rates. If adopted, the plan will provide a road map for how we can move forward in increasing completion rates, closing equity gaps and improving affordability.
The second important step to be considered is a framework of an outcomes-based funding model for allocating the state’s investment in higher education. Colleges and universities in the state have been funded based on a needs-based model that is driven by enrollments and emphasizes access to higher education in its approach. The proposed model follows an outcomes-based approach, representing a fundamental shift in the way we think about funding by moving us from an enrollment focus to a completion focus and from focusing only on access to emphasizing both access and student success.
Outcomes-based funding can be used to align institutional funding with statewide priorities for higher education by encouraging programs and services focused on student success and incentivizing progress toward statewide goals. At the same time, such models encourage accountability to students and policymakers by focusing on the success of students through the achievement of their educational goals. Any new funding model must be built around a set of shared principles embraced by institutions, employing appropriate outcomes metrics, and aligned with goals and objectives for post-secondary attainment in our state and encouraging accountability to stakeholders.
If they are adopted, these two initiatives will formalize and operationalize the efforts necessary to reach the ambitious, but essential, goals established to increase the percentage of Arkansans holding a post-secondary credential. Many of these efforts can be seen already in the work that has occurred to change how we think about remediation, work to increase collaboration related to transfer students, adoption of analytics to better understand student success indicators, and others.
Personally, I am also moving forward at the end of July to take on a new opportunity at Henderson State University. In many ways, I feel that this is an opportunity to take these plans with me and become part of an institution that is already moving forward in these areas. I look forward to the opportunity to apply many of these important initiatives in a more tangible way. What a tremendous opportunity and honor it has been to serve the state of Arkansas as the Director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. My only hope that the work we have accomplished together with many other partners continue to have a positive impact on the future of our state.