College degrees can make all the difference

October 3, 2011 

It is amazing what numbers can show you.

You can listen to anecdotes, use your own personal experiences and observations but when it comes right down to it -- numbers don’t lie.

The number I’m interested in right now is 25 percent.

That, believe it or not, is the portion of the population in the Tampa Bay area, which includes Manatee, that has a college degree.

Are you surprised? I was.

I would have put that figure much higher, probably because I work with and have friends here who -- for the most part -- have a college degree.

Well, if a group of local leaders including University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Arthur Guilford have anything to do with it, that 25 percent will soon be moving upward.

At least by 1 percent.

That’s the magic number that can translate into a $1 million prize.

It’s all part of the National Talent Dividend competition going on between 57 metropolitan areas -- Tampa Bay included -- across the U.S.

Numbers tell the story about the need for increasing the number of college graduates, says Guilford, who is heading up the local effort, and Fran DiDonato, head of the National Talent Dividend Network, a learning network of leadership teams focused on pushing college achievement.

The median weekly earnings for those with high school diplomas is $767, which translates into an average lifetime earning of $1.7 million.

But when you look at those numbers for bachelor’s degree and master’s degree holders, the difference is startling.

Over their lifetimes, bachelor degree holders will make $3.3 million and master degree holders $3.8 million.

That should give every parent pause when planning for their child’s future.

“People with a college degree are much more likely to obtain or keep employment,” Guilford said. “The most deeply hurt in today’s economy are those with just a high school diploma.”

Once again the numbers prove the point.

According to USF data, the unemployment rate among high school graduates is 10.3 percent compared to 5.4 percent for bachelor degree holders and 4 percent for those with a master’s degree.

To achieve the 1 percent increase -- whether associates, bachelors, masters or doctorate degrees -- Guilford and others are looking for 30,000 more people getting diplomas.

“I think it is an obtainable goal,” said the ever-optimistic Guilford. “There are over 600,000 residents in this region with some college but no degree. If only a fraction of them would come back and finish their degree, he said the goal would be met.

Advanced education has a ripple effect in the economy and, given its present state, we need a tidal wave of improvement.

A 1 percent increase in degrees translates into a $3.1 billion talent dividend locally in the form of an increase in wages, spending and as a draw for companies providing higher-paying jobs, DiDonato said.

“Fifty-eight percent of a city’s success is directly related to the number of people with college degrees,” she said.

One of the strategies being implemented by USF is admitting transfer students without an associate’s degree.

The university, like everyone else, is battling the effects of higher tuition, which has been raised for the last four years, Guilford said.

Still the number of students has continued to increase each year by 4 to 5 percent, he said, but the credit hours taken have not.

“I’m not sure what it means, either we’ve not scheduled well, or students who are employed are reluctant to take time off from work or it could mean that we have reached a tipping point,” he said.

Despite the hurdles facing Guilford and the Tampa Bay Partnership, who is involved in the talent dividend, they are convinced they can win the $1 million prize.

If they do, the money will be used in public relation efforts to show how “talented” the Tampa Bay region is, DiDonato said.

“Hopefully that will attract more educated people and higher-paying businesses to the area,” she said.

But the real reward, she says, comes in doing the work.

“No city is going to lose in this.”

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service