College-educated workers in Maine much more likely to get jobs, but there are serious barriers, report says

Posted Dec. 13, 2011, at 12:52 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 14, 2011, at 5:29 a.m.

BELFAST, Maine — A new report shows that while the high school graduation rate in Maine exceeds the national average, the percentage of students who go on to college is well below average, and college-educated workers are much more likely to get jobs than workers with just a high school degree.

The report from the Mitchell Institute, “ College Access and Persistence in Maine,” points out both the benefits of and the barriers to a college education for Maine students. College persistence measures the students who stay in college from one year to the next, progressing toward a degree, without dropping out.

“We hope it’s a useful tool to get a quick view but a clear understanding on what those education trends look like in Maine,” Colleen Quint, executive director of the Mitchell Institute, said Tuesday afternoon.

Among the findings:

• The Maine high school graduation rate has grown from 74 percent to 82 percent between 2000 and 2010. That is above the national average of 70 percent, according to the study. However, only 60 percent of Maine students enroll in college within one year of high school graduation, compared to 68 percent nationally.

• Jobs for college-educated workers in Maine are projected to increase by 15,000 by the year 2018. Jobs for high school graduates, on the other hand, are projected to grow by just 2,000 in the same time frame.

• Maine workers with a college degree earn wages that are more than 50 percent higher than their high-school-educated counterparts.

• The average cost of one year at a public university in Maine grew from 35 percent to 46 percent of annual per capita income over the last decade. But the cost of community college over the same period increased by just one percent of per capita income, from 9 percent to 10 percent.

The findings show that economically disadvantaged children are 25 percent less likely to be proficient in math than their higher-income classmates. Math proficiency is a strong predictor of college readiness, according to the report. Many Maine students — 44 percent of those in kindergarten through 12th grade — come from families considered to be economically disadvantaged. Those families earn less than $41,400 for a family of four.

David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education, said Tuesday that the information in the study is “certainly consistent” with what Commissioner Stephen Bowen has seen.

“We know that too many of our students are not graduating from high school. We know that too many of them are entering college needing remedial courses before they are ready for college courses,” he said. “We know that we need to engage more high school students in rigorous academic experiences that will prepare them for college and career.”

He said that Bowen has been working very aggressively with superintendents and others to pursue a vision for high school education in Maine that will provide students with more options and more engagement.

“There’s a lot of excitement and exploration by educators and schools around the state,” Connerty-Marin said. “We need to press on with that, in order to keep the kids going in the system, ready for college and career.”

Quint of the Mitchell Institute said that the research brief is a precursor to a major report on college access and persistence in Maine, which likely will be released at the end of 2012.

The Mitchell Institute has a core mission to increase the likelihood that young Mainers will aspire to, pursue and achieve a college education. Each year, a scholarship is awarded from the institute to one graduating senior from every public high school in Maine who will attend a post-secondary degree program. From 1995 to 2011, the Mitchell Scholarship Program has awarded more than $8.5 million in financial assistance to nearly 2,000 Maine students.

To access the report, visit the website www.mitchellinstitute.org.

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