New study sheds light on postsecondary education

Published 3:49 pm Monday, February 13, 2023

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A new research study and public opinion survey commissioned by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) has shed light on the value of postsecondary education in Tennessee. SCORE says that postsecondary degrees and credentials have strong value, and Tennesseans still find them valuable. But, the state and institutions must do more to ensure that career-connectedness, cost and time do not limit that value.    

SCORE commissioned the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to analyze education and labor market data to better understand the economic value of postsecondary education in Tennessee. SCORE also commissioned a statewide public opinion survey of Tennessee voters to understand public perception of the value of postsecondary education with an oversampling of 18- to 24-year-old Tennesseans.

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The research study found the post-pandemic labor market is very competitive and continues to favor college-educated workers in terms of current wages, employment outcomes and ability to withstand unemployment during a recession.

The public opinion survey conducted by bipartisan polling team Robert Blizzard of Public Opinion Strategies and Brian Stryker of Impact Research, found that Tennessee voters believe that only a high school diploma is not enough to support student success. However, that belief diminishes if a postsecondary education requires students to go into debt and doesn’t guarantee them a clear career path. Eighty-three percent of respondents believe getting an education beyond high school is worth it, despite concerns over cost and time.

SCORE President and CEO David Mansouri said the results show postsecondary education is valuable when it prepares students for a career. “Postsecondary education matters; it matters in terms of lifetime earnings, and it matters in terms of obtaining a great job in an in-demand career in Tennessee. Our state and our postsecondary education institutions can do more to ensure students earn postsecondary degrees and credentials that are aligned with career and workforce needs in a way that ensures time and cost are not limiting opportunity,” said Mansouri.

The study and poll findings were released during a SCORE Institute webinar that included a discussion with Tennessee K-12, higher education and workforce leaders about the need to strengthen connections from education to the workforce.

Some of the key takeaways included in the survey results show that 74 percent of 18- to 24‐year‐old Tennesseans believe education beyond high school is “worth it” but expressed significant concerns about cost. Seventy-seven percent of Tennesseans view “higher education” positively yet express only “soft” satisfaction with how the state’s higher education system is working today. An overwhelming 93 percent of Tennesseans say some type of training or education beyond high school is important.

When it comes to postsecondary education being “worth it,” Tennessee voters place a TCAT training program (93 percent), two‐year community college credential (90 percent), and non-degree job training program (87 percent) highest. However, Tennesseans’ highest preference is for their own child to attend a four‐year university or college.

Among those 18- to 24-year-olds who have not made up their minds or do not plan on pursuing postsecondary education, most say improved personal finances would make them more likely to attend.

The Boyd Center Study included the following results:

The post-pandemic labor market in Tennessee is very tight and continues to favor college-educated workers in terms of wages and unemployment rates.

A college education is a large, upfront investment of time and money, but the payoff from higher lifetime earnings usually makes it worthwhile.

The study estimates a 14.5 percent return to the time and money spent earning a bachelor’s degree and a 9.5 percent return on an associate degree.

A bachelor’s degree recipient is expected to earn $1.5 million more than a high school graduate over their career. Returns on college investment are not always positive, however, and depend on a student’s program and whether or not they graduate.

Pre-pandemic and post-pandemic employment growth in Tennessee has been faster for higher-paying college-level jobs.

The national economic outlook is souring, and workers without postsecondary training tend to be hit harder economically during recessions.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) works to ensure all Tennessee students can have success in college, career and life. SCORE is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy and research institution founded in 2009 by former US Senate Majority Leader Senator Bill Frist, MD. SCORE measures success by the outcomes of Tennessee’s students.

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