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Connecticut Lags In Growth Rate In Post-Secondary Degrees

Connecticut not keeping pace with leading states in the rate of growth of persons with postsecondary degrees

Kathleen Megan

January 20, 2011

Connecticut ranks seventh in the nation in the percentage of students with post-secondary degrees, but what alarms education officials is that the rate at which that percentage is growing is well behind that of many states, including those in New England.

"This is a race at which everyone is getting faster for the most part," said Higher Education Commissioner Michael P. Meotti. "So your speed is not the key. It's your acceleration that is the key. Our speed is going up. The problem is our acceleration ranks us 34th out of 50 states."

Meotti said that if the state remains "in the bottom third in terms of our rate of growth" in the attainment of post-secondary degrees, "then we are heading for a really difficult situation over the next 10 and 20 years in terms of the overall quality of the workforce."

The statistical findings were presented Wednesday at a meeting of the Board of Governors for Higher Education; the figures are based on an analysis of the Census and American Community Survey data by the Department of Higher Education.

In 2000, Connecticut ranked fourth among the 50 states in the percentage of adults with post-secondary degrees, with 42.5 percent of the population aged 25 to 34 earning an associate's degree or higher. For the period from 2005 to 2009, that percentage increased to 45.7 percent, but Connecticut's ranking slipped to seventh.

Although Connecticut education leaders are pleased that the percentage of adults with degrees is on the increase, that increase in Connecticut from 2000 to 2009 was only 3.2 percentage points. It's that rate of growth that places Connecticut in the bottom third of the states.

In a statement released by the department, Meotti said that the statistics confirm projections made five years ago in a report by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation titled "New England 2020."

"In 1990, we were the top state in education attainment," said Meotti. "We then dropped to fourth place in 2000 and we now find our leadership position further eroding compared to states of similar size and aspirations like Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey. We are unquestionably falling behind."

The rate of growth in the attainment of post-secondary degrees in the other New England states is: New Hampshire and Maine at 5.2 percentage points; Rhode Island at 4.9 percentage points; and Massachusetts at 4.7 percentage points. The rate of growth for New York was 6.6 percentage points.

Meotti said this rate of growth is especially important for Connecticut because "we are in a sense a higher education-sensitive economy, so for us this is like the oil wells in Saudi Arabia. They do not only need to pump oil, they need to pump more oil. Our education level of our work force really defines the Connecticut success story of the 20th century. That is in great jeopardy."

Meotti said he was surprised that the other New England states had greater growth than Connecticut in the attainment of post-secondary degrees, and that he's not sure why.

To improve Connecticut's performance, Meotti said that attention will have to be paid to improving college retention and graduation rates. A key, he said, will be ensuring that when students arrive at college, they are prepared to do the work.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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