This morning, President Obama, General Powell, and U.S. Secretary of Education Anne Duncan addressed the nation about one of the leading determinants of economic prosperity: educational attainment. Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance launched a new campaign, Grad Nation. Their goal: to make the U.S. a world leader in college graduation rates by 2020.

How does Alabama fare in the national trend towards more educational attainment? Not so well. In the year 2005, only 23 percent of Alabama adults had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher. This is much lower than the national average and places us 43rd in a national index of college education attainment. We also ranked 45th in a national index of high school graduation rates, with just 84.1 percent of adults boasting a high school diploma.

In 2008, Alabama’s median household income was $9,443 less than the national median household income.  The Southern Education Foundation reports that 60% of Alabama’s low earnings potential is due to low educational attainment. Many studies have confirmed that lack of a college degree leads to significantly lower earnings potential over a person’s lifetime. On average, people with college degrees earn 45 percent more than those without a bachelor’s degree, and 64 percent more than those without a high school diploma.

On his blog, Powell writes

“The simple proposition is this—improving graduation rates is not just an education issue; it’s a community issue.”

We agree.  What to do about it?

  • Mentor youth. Students whose parents did not complete college enrolled at rates of only 56 percent, and students of parents with no high school diploma enrolled at even lower rates; these first-generation college students need the most encouragement.
  • Support college access programs (such as our Blueprints College Access Initiative) in our efforts to connect students to the resources they need.
  • Be the change you wish to see: urge local high schools to institute more college readiness programs, or volunteer to strengthen existing initiatives.

Posted by Robyn Hyden