R.I. postsecondary education commissioner issues report on boosting attainment

WARWICK – The state commissioner for postsecondary education released a report Thursday that could lay the groundwork for a plan to get at least 70% of Rhode Island’s workforce to hold a college degree or credential by 2025.

Commissioner Brenda Dann-Messier also announced that her office had received nearly $900,000 in grants to implement the plan, which would amount to getting an estimated 90,000 Rhode Islanders degrees and credentials.

The report and grants are the response to Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s call to have 70% of working-age Rhode Islanders obtain degrees and credentials in the next six years. Raimondo set the goal saying that most jobs are expected to require a postsecondary education in the near future.

Currently, about 46% of Rhode Island’s workforce has attained a degree or credential, according to the state.

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The 16-page report from the Office of Postsecondary Commissioner, titled “Workers Ahead: Postsecondary Attainment in Rhode Island,” outlines five actions that should be taken by state institutions, agencies, community organizations and industry leaders in order boost the number of people receiving degrees or credentials:

Scale on-ramps for working-age adults

Rhode Island will need to increase enrollments and completions for working-age adults by 10,000 students per year over the next six years, according to the report. “This will require us to dramatically increase capacity and recruitment efforts, as well as awareness and alignment of programs and services,” the report said.

Expand access and preparation in the PK-12 pipeline

“Targeted strategies are needed to engage an additional 20,000 youth and young adults by 2025 and ensure they remain on the path to succeed in postsecondary education,” the report said. “Over the next six years, we will need to increase enrollments and completions by approximately 3,000 students per year to reach our goal.”

Strengthen investments in retention and completion

“Nearly 30,000 undergraduate students are currently enrolled in Rhode Island’s public postsecondary institutions,” the report said. “Over the next six years, we must ensure that these students persist and complete their degrees.”

Establish collective ownership of the postsecondary attainment goal

“In addition to our public institutions and state agencies, we must gain support from private institutions, community organizations, municipal leaders, employers, and the general public,” the report said.

Eliminate racial/ethnic equity gaps in postsecondary attainment

“We will not meet our 70% attainment goal without addressing the structural and cultural barriers to attainment for Rhode Islanders of color,” the report noted.

Rhode Island has a lot of work ahead, according to the report.

Among New England states, the “attainment gap” – the difference between the current percentage of workers who hold postsecondary degrees and credentials and the percentage of jobs that will require postsecondary education – is largest in Rhode Island at 24.6 percentage points. (In Massachusetts, the difference is about 15 percentage points – the lowest in New England – according to the Office of Postsecondary Commissioner.)

Dann-Messier said a $495,492 grant from Walmart and a $399,700 grant from Lumina Foundation will fund the “tactical portion” of the plan.

“Lumina’s investment will enable us to launch an online portal to serve as a single point of entry to postsecondary education and job opportunities for adult Rhode Islanders; devise a communications and outreach campaign with strategies to reach underrepresented populations, including Rhode Islanders of color and low-income adults; and establish navigators to help students who are coping with barriers that draw focus away from education,” Dann-Messier said in a news release. “Support from Walmart will expand educational pathways for Rhode Islanders working in our state’s service-sector industries.”

William Hamilton is PBN staff writer and special projects editor. You can follow him on Twitter @waham or email him at hamilton@pbn.com.