You’ve likely heard it said that the demand for workers with education beyond high school is greater now than ever—with nearly two-thirds of U.S. jobs projected to require education or training beyond high school by 2020. You’ve also probably heard a lot of talk about what should or must be done to meet this demand. It’s time to turn that talk into action, and we’re seeing communities across the country step up to lead.
As I’ve pointed out before, our nation’s cities are the creative and entrepreneurial furnaces that power our economy. If we’re serious about increasing postsecondary access and attainment across the country to meet the evolving needs of a global workforce, we need strategies that mobilize efforts nationally, but also locally. We need to redesign the system. We need to make higher education work for more Americans, and not just for 18- to 22-year-old students but for adults too. While national programs can be far-reaching in scope, a grassroots approach to increasing attainment allows communities to tailor post-high-school programs to fit the needs of residents, which could help improve access to education and more adults earn credentials while decreasing achievement gaps among underserved populations—two steps critical to reaching and engaging today’s students.
This local-level work is already underway—most notably, in 17 communities across the country that Lumina Foundation is proud to designate Talent Hubs. Those communities are: Albuquerque, N.M.; Austin, Texas; Boston; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ind.; Dayton, Ohio; Denver; Fresno, Calif.; Shasta County, Calif.; Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; New York City; Philadelphia; Racine, Wis.; Richmond, Via.; and Tulsa, Okla. Organizations within these Talent Hub communities will receive $350,000 in grants to support initiatives that increase postsecondary attainment for three-and-a-half years.
By building upon and better coordinating existing programs, Talent Hubs facilitate collaboration between local nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, and employers to act in support of education completion among specific, underserved student populations in the area. Each of these hubs has set clear and specific targets for outcomes related to credential completion, and are committed to growing employment opportunities and eliminating disparities in educational outcomes among African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians, and other populations that face increasing gaps in attainment. Specifically, these Talent Hubs have worked intensively to increase attainment among first-time, full-time college students; older adults with college experience who stopped-out before finishing their studies; or adults with no formal education beyond high school.
Talent Hubs are essential to achieving Lumina’s mission of increasing the percentage of working-age Americans with high-quality postsecondary credentials to 60 percent by 2025. As my colleague Dakota Pawlicki, strategy officer for community mobilization at Lumina Foundation, has said:
The grassroots work of community, business, and education leaders within Talent Hubs helps to decrease barriers to higher education while also providing resources to help underserved students complete their postsecondary education. Students who participate in this effort will form the backbone of the future economic, social, and cultural success of those communities.
The collaborative efforts these Talent Hubs are taking on for the betterment of their communities are inspiring—and essential. In Cincinnati, a local partnership between a nonprofit and institutions of higher education is helping single mothers attend college for the first time and break the cycle of poverty. In Shasta County, Calif., local efforts are contributing to creating stronger pathways for adults with some education beyond high school to complete their credentials in rural and tribal areas. Through targeted messaging and surveying, Austin, Texas, is working to ensure tens of thousands of adults with some college education but no formal degree can complete the education and training they need to earn a credential, particularly among the city’s Hispanic, low-income, and unemployed or underemployed adults.
Although we’re excited to designate these 17 communities as Talent Hubs, we truly see this as a starting point. We want these communities to be recognized as leaders in creating innovative, engaging, and collaborative programs that foster postsecondary attainment among their residents.
As their methods continue to prove successful, other cities should follow their lead, study, and replicate these programs, set specific goals around credential completion, and see increasing higher education access and attainment, particularly among underserved populations, as a priority.