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Postsecondary degrees in Louisville at highest levels yet

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The percentage of college-educated, working-aged adults in Louisville is at its highest point ever, with 45.5% holding an associate’s degree or higher, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey released this week.

“In this period of low unemployment when employers are struggling to find skilled workers, this is great news for our city,” said Mary Gwen Wheeler, executive director of 55,000 Degrees, the city’s multi-sector initiative to increase postsecondary education attainment levels to 50% by 2020.

55,000 Degrees began in 2010 as a 10-year initiative to increase the skill and education levels of the working-age population to remain competitive in talent with Louisville’s peer cities. Among the 16 cities that Louisville usually compares itself to, Louisville has moved up one place to 10th on the list, ahead of Birmingham, Alabama.

Among other highlights in the report:

  • Louisville is 2.5% above the national average of 43% attainment in postsecondary education
  • Attainment is 7.5% higher than when the 55,000 Degrees initiative started in 2010
  • Increases were seen at all levels of postsecondary education – associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees
  • A decrease was seen in the number of adults with only a high school diploma/GED or less, as well as adults with some college but no degree

Wheeler said one driver of the gain in overall degrees could be an increase in graduation rates at local postsecondary institutions. Data tracked by 55,000 Degrees shows an increase in degrees awarded at universities and community colleges in Greater Louisville, despite declining enrollment.

“The gains in attainment show significant progress and momentum that partners can build on to bring lasting change to Louisville,” Wheeler said. “What this collective effort of 55K has taught us over the last decade is that we can move the needle if all sectors of a community align their goals and work together. We, as a community, should be encouraged by this progress, but also resolute. Our work is not done. Uniting around the goal has gotten us this far; transformative change will require us to align not just our priorities but our resources as well.”

Education attainment is a key measure of whether cities have the skilled workforce needed for a 21st Century economy. It is also one of four key indicators of a community’s success, as identified by the Greater Louisville Project, which tracks data to drive positive change in the city.

“As our 15-year Milestone report illustrated earlier this year, Louisville has made progress across many measures but hasn’t reached our highest aspirations on any of them,” said Ben Reno-Weber, director of the Greater Louisville Project. “But this latest data is cause for celebration, showing our greatest gain over peer cities is in education, with efforts led by the collaboration of 55,000 Degrees.”

When taking office in 2011, Mayor Greg Fischer listed lifelong learning among three core city values, and education has been a focus for the Mayor, who chairs the 55,000 Degrees Board of Directors. This is a part of a broader effort championed by the Fischer to support children and families through the Cradle to Career framework, and now Evolve502.

“This is good progress,” Mayor Fischer said of the latest uptick in educational attainment. “But we still have significant work to do, and we need to keep our foot on the gas. We have to continue investing, collaborating and building partnerships, which is the basis for Evolve502, as we marshal the investment necessary to remove barriers to the education credentials that we know are life-changing for individuals, families, neighborhoods and our entire city.”

As it heads into its last year, 55K will continue to report on progress to the 2020 goal, as Evolve502 develops strategies to close achievement and opportunity gaps and tackle the college affordability crisis.

“We must continue to invest in the future of our citizens, and Evolve502 is committed to moving this work forward,” said Marland Cole, executive director of Evolve502. “We are convening the community to identify solutions to remove barriers to achievement while also providing the access and support needed for postsecondary success. Together, we will ensure that every child is prepared for college, career, and a successful, productive life.”