Why Degree Completion? Its Importance for Workforce Centers

Although often overlooked as a first line of support when matching workers with jobs, the case for degree completion is strong. Degree completion is:

Degree completion is effective for clients:

Clients who finish college benefit from individual prosperity, family economic security, and local economic development. Graduates feel great, not just because they have completed a life goal, but because they have become better prepared job seekers and employees.  

2012 U.S. Unemployment Rate and Median Weekly Earnings for Educational Attainment

As illustrated in the graph above (data is from the 2012 U.S. Unemployment Rate and Median Weekly Earnings for Educational Attainment), the likelihood of an individual's unemployment decreases as his or her degree attainment increases. College credentials are also a valuable long-term investment for clients because clients' average lifetime earnings increase as degree attainment increases. The following list breaks down average lifetime earnings by educational level:

  • No education to 8th grade: $936,000 average lifetime earnings
  • 9th to 12th grade: $1,099,000 average lifetime earnings
  • High school graduate: $1,371,000 average lifetime earnings
  • Some college: $1,632,000 average lifetime earnings
  • Associate’s degree: $1,813,000 average lifetime earnings
  • Bachelor’s degree: $2,422,000 average lifetime earnings
  • Master’s degree: $2,834,000 average lifetime earnings
  • Professional degree: $4,159,000 average lifetime earnings
  • Doctorate degree: $3,525,000 average lifetime earnings

Increasing rates of degree completion is imperative for the nation:

To meet the growing needs of the United States workforce, the nation must steadily increase the number of college graduates in the workforce each year until 2025. By 2018, for example, 60 percent of all jobs in US will require a postsecondary education of some sort, but presently only 38 percent of working Americans have a postsecondary or higher degree. If the nation does not place a high priority on degree completion, the US labor force will be short 23 million degree holders in 2018. (Learn more about the national case for degree completion.)
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Degree completion is necessary at the local level:

Increasing the number of college graduates is not only imperative nationally but also necessary to sustain the vitality of local communities. National growth in college completion requires growth at the local level. To understand and address the college attainment challenges in your state, county or metropolitan area, please visit this year's "Stronger Nation" report.
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Degree completion is possible with guidance from Workforce Centers:

According to the Lumina Foundation for Education, 36 million adults (one out of every five working-age Americans -- or more than 22 percent of the national population) have significant college credit but still lack a degree. Many unemployed individuals in need of training are included in this category. Many such individuals, in the course of their lives, will visit workforce centers affiliated with the nation’s workforce development system.  Through effective guidance, such workforce centers can serve as an important partner in an adult’s degree completion efforts.  These centers can help to:

  • grow a stronger, more educated local workforce;
  • promote strong communities replete with skilled workers;
  • keep companies within the state; and
  • contribute to the national goal of a more educated workforce and strong economy.

This public workforce development system is held accountable by performance measures based on training related outcomes for adults and dislocated workers. These outcomes include annual earnings. College completion can give centers and their boards the opportunity to provide more individuals with an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree, thereby helping those individuals to earn higher wages. Higher wages, in turn, can improve performance measures.

In addition to these benefits, the national environment -- especially the advent of the WIOA legislation -- is primed for workforce centers to play an important role in college completion efforts. The new common measures required for all core programs, including employment goals and receipt of a secondary diploma or recognized postsecondary credential in WIOA, mean that college completion is and will continue to be an effective training option for the workforce development system.  The federal focus in both acts is on building the economy and workforce. With an emergent economy, a host of new job types, and an employer emphasis on education, workforce centers are situated to be good partners to college completion efforts.