Promoting Postsecondary Degree Attainment: A Path to Economic Success

Higher education is important, resulting in increased workforce participation, improved financial security, and decreased reliance on public benefit programs.  Statistics examining outcomes of Kentuckians with a bachelor’s degree versus Kentuckians with a high school diploma reflect this.  For example, the median earnings for Kentuckians with a bachelor’s degree is $52,000, whereas median earnings for those with a high school diploma is $30,000. Let’s examine the value of education below.

Despite the benefits that bachelor’s degrees hold, Kentucky lags behind the national average for baccalaureate degree attainment.  Enrollment in bachelor’s programs has declined by 41% for low-income learners and 46% for adult learners, resulting in reduced overall attainment.

Certain organizations are working to turn the tides of decreasing enrollment.  For example, the James Graham Brown Foundation partnered with CPE to form the Kentucky Student Success Collaborative (KYSSC), which focuses on statewide measures to support students in degree attainment.  

In order to boost enrollment numbers, KYSSC has raised $4 million in grants and investment in higher education.  KYSSC also supports basic student needs, as this is a key barrier to many students.  In fact, roughly 60% of students in the United States face basic needs security.  This issue is further compounded by its lasting implications on education, as only 20% of students who take a break from their studies due to financial reasons end up returning to complete their degree. 

Another way to support students is through improving transfer pathways and increasing gateway course success.  Bolstering gateway courses is beneficial to baccalaureate degree attainment because these courses have a significant impact on retention.  For example, students who complete gateway English courses experience 82% retention from their first to second year, whereas students who do not complete a gateway English course only experience 48% retention. 

Postsecondary degrees can make a huge difference in individual success and satisfaction, and it is important to support students in the attainment of these degrees.  Kentucky provides a good example of the difference that these degrees can make, as well as the areas in which organizations can work to better student outcomes.