University of Maine students Marissa Martel, Casey Dumond, and Erin Cianchette work in a simulation lab at Eastern Maine Medical Center in 2018. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik

Educate Maine is a group of cross-sector and geographically diverse Maine business leaders who champion career readiness by supporting Mainers in their educational attainment quests, and seek to enable all students to succeed in postsecondary education and training, and in their current and future workplaces. We believe that when all Maine people reach their greatest educational and economic potential, it will power a vibrant, globally competitive statewide economy.

To gauge how Maine is doing in the effort to meet this bold vision and mission, each year Educate Maine publishes an annual report that gives an independent assessment of what is working well, and the educational challenges we must work to meet head-on.

Recently, Educate Maine released the seventh annual Education Indicators for Maine report. It is an in-depth examination of Maine’s education system, beginning in early childhood and continuing through postsecondary education. The 10 indicators measure access, participation and performance across the system, providing a snapshot of what is working well and where improvements and investments in Maine’s education system are needed.

New this year, the report includes disaggregated data based on race/ethnicity and gender. This information is essential to understanding how to better support all Maine students, including Maine’s increasingly diverse student population.

The path forward to well prepare Maine students for postsecondary education and the workforce requires continued investment in expanding access to early learning programs beginning at birth, especially for economically disadvantaged and diverse students. Maine also must remain committed to efforts to close the achievement gap for disadvantaged and diverse youth, improve proficiency at every grade level for all students, and increase the number of Mainers with postsecondary degrees or credentials.

The Education Indicators for Maine report finds progress has been made in several key areas. Notably, the number of Maine people achieving a postsecondary credential of value — a skilled-trade certificate or a college degree that connects a person to a good job and career in Maine — has increased from 37 percent in 2013 to 45 percent, surpassing the 2019 goal of 44 percent. Educate Maine and its partners in the MaineSpark coalition are working toward 60 percent by 2025, the state-based attainment goal that will ensure Maine’s workforce is productive and competitive.

Additional positive findings in Education Indicators for Maine include that the proportion of school districts offering full-day kindergarten has increased to 98 percent — from 87 percent in 2013 — with Maine doing slightly better than New England on this measure (96 percent). College completion rates also have increased: 62 percent of students who enter college complete within 150 percent of normal program time, compared with 50 percent in 2013.

Data indicate the ongoing achievement gap for Maine’s economically disadvantaged students (those eligible for the National School Lunch Program) continues to be a challenge. Lower-income students start school well behind their peers, continuously perform below their peers by wide margins, graduate high school at a lower rate (78 percent versus 95 percent) and attend college well below the rate of their non-economically disadvantaged peers (50 percent versus 75 percent). Only 45 percent of students who are economically disadvantaged complete college degrees, compared with 70 percent of those who are not.

Achievement gaps are also significant by race/ethnicity. Reading and math proficiency are lower among American Indian, Alaska native, black and Hispanic students. Four-year high school graduation rates for these students, as well as students of two or more races, is lower than Maine’s total high school graduation rate, which was 87 percent in 2018. Supporting diverse students is the focus of a recent Educate Maine and Maine State Chamber of Commerce policy brief, Helping Diverse Students Thrive.

To build on the successes already taking place in classrooms and schools all across our great state, education, business and policy leaders must build on the successes the report identifies and work to address the challenges that persist. It is our collective responsibility to prepare today’s students for postsecondary education and the workforce. Success in school will result in bright futures and promising career paths for Maine youth, and a strong workforce to help grow Maine’s economy.

Paul Bolin serves as vice president and chief human resource officer at Northern Light Health. Jason Judd is the executive director of Educate Maine.