Public Policy Forum Blog

Metrics for boosting educational attainment in Southeast Wisconsin

Recognizing that a prosperous metro Milwaukee depends on an educated workforce, a new Talent Dividend Initiative has emerged in Milwaukee to boost regional educational attainment. The initiative - which is comprised of workforce development, economic development, and educational organizations across southeast Wisconsin - has set its sights on increasing the percentage of adults in the region with four-year college degrees by a full percentage point by 2013.

The initiative grew from a campaign launched by CEOs for Cities (a national network of urban leaders) based on their research suggesting that a one percentage point increase in the number of bachelors degree holders in a metro region can produce a $763 increase in annual per capita income. In southeast Wisconsin’s seven counties, CEOs for Cities estimates that increasing bachelors degree attainment from the current level of 28.7% of the population to 29.7% would produce 13,146 new degree holders and a resulting “talent dividend” of about $1.5 billion annually.

With that goal firmly established, the local initiative is considering two questions:

1. Where should resources be targeted to most effectively attack regional educational attainment?
2. How can the success of these strategies be measured?

The Public Policy Forum was commissioned by the Regional Workforce Alliance's WIRED Initiative to help answer those questions. A report we released today, entitled "Educational Attainment in Southeast Wisconsin," provides an overview of the region's educational pipeline from preschool to college, noting that the majority of new degree holders will come from the 525,000 students already engaged in the pipeline. It contains a series of metrics that provide insights into how the various points of the pipeline are performing and how progress can be assessed. The report also cites several opportunity points for boosting student success and attainment, including:

  • Developing college-going behaviors among high school students. Our report finds that while 55% of high school graduates plan to attend a four-year college and 19% of graduates plan to attend a technical college, 17% are undecided about their post-high school plans. Programs to increase the number of college-bound students might set their sights on these undecided students.
  • Re-engaging adults who have earned some college credit, but have not completed a degree. More than 20% of the region’s non-degreed adults have attended college at some point and may be interested in continuing their education. Identifying those who are just a few credits short of earning a degree would be the logical starting point.
  • Increasing student transfers between two-year and four-year colleges and universities. Completing the degree requirements at a two-year college before transferring to a four-year college can help students reduce the cost of earning a degree. More data are needed, however, to understand and track college transfer trends in the region.

Finally, at all points in the pipeline, strategies to assist minority students offer a substantial opportunity to increase regional degree holders. Currently, just 12% of African-American and 10% of Hispanic residents in the region hold a bachelors degree or higher, compared to 31% of white residents. This is a logical focus for retention strategies, as minority student enrollment in higher education is on the rise, especially in the region’s 2-year institutions.

The Talent Dividend Initiative plans to regularly update the metrics presented in the report to measure the effectiveness of specific strategies toward the overall goal. The full report can be accessed here.

Anneliese Dickman