Louisville Adds College Educated Citizens, But Has More Work Ahead

December 2, 2014

55,000 Degrees is not on track to reach 2020 goal according to 2014 Progress Report

Louisville is making strides in building a more educated workforce – increasing high school and college graduation rates with 37,000 associate and bachelor’s degrees awarded at local colleges since 2010. But, concerns about cost and the value of a college degree are behind a troubling drop in college enrollment nationally and locally.


These findings are among the measures of Louisville’s education attainment in the 2014 Progress Report released today by 55,000 Degrees, the bold community movement to create a workforce where 50 percent of adults hold college degrees by 2020.


More people in Louisville have college degrees than ever before: 41.5% of the working-age population. The city has added 22,000 degrees to the population since the inception of 55,000 Degrees. But, the community is not on track to reach its 2020 goal.


“We’re making progress, but more must be done,” said Mayor Greg Fischer, chairman of the 55,000 Degrees board. “We not only have to get high school graduates and adult learners to college, we have to get them to the finish line. It matters to the individuals and our entire city. A more educated community attracts better, higher-paying jobs.”


Fischer called on more members of the business community to play an active role in the initiative by defining the skills that are needed so colleges can rapidly respond with applicable courses preparing students for jobs of the future. Business leaders can also step up to help adult learners become degree earners by investing with tuition support, flexible schedules and peer mentors. He also pointed out that growing more high-skill/high-wage jobs will help attract and retain talent in our community.


Among the most troubling findings in the report is the decrease in college enrollment – a predictor of declines in future degree completions, said Mary Gwen Wheeler, 55,000 Degrees executive director. Concerns about cost and value of a college education are causing more high school graduates and returning adult learners to veer off the path to a college degree.


“We must convince more people that the actual cost of a college degree, not the sticker price, is an affordable and smart investment in their future,” Wheeler said. “The return on investment for both the individual and the community proves that it’s absolutely worth it.”


She also said 55,000 Degrees must address the critical leaks in the system to improve college-going rates, persistence and college-finishing rates. But, local degree production is only part of the picture. The gain of educated people must be greater than the yearly loss – and jobs are key to that balance.


Next year, the half-way point in the ten-year initiative will be reached. Efforts will be reviewed to intensify the focus of reaching out to more partners to help build a stronger and smarter Louisville.


The complete progress report and Louisville’s education data dashboard can be found at 55000degrees.org.


More information:


Highlights of 2014 Report


More people in Louisville have college degrees than ever before

*41.5 percent of working adults in Louisville have a college degree

*Louisville has added 22,000 degrees since inception


Post-secondary degree completions continue to climb

*Number of undergraduate degrees completed has risen to almost 10,000 per year

*13 percent increase in bachelor’s degrees over the past four years

*26 percent increase in associate degrees over the past four years


More public high school students are graduating

*JCPS graduation rate in 2014 was 79 percent, up 2.5 points

*At 61 percent, more JCPS graduates are college and/or career ready


55,000 Degrees is not on track to reach its 50 percent goal by 2020

*At current pace, the 50 percent target won’t be hit until 2030

*With faster than expected population growth, 59,000 degrees are needed to reach the goal of 50 percent of working-age adults with a college degree


Gaps in the System


Fewer JCPS high school graduates are going to and finishing college

*College-going rate has dropped to under 66 percent

*JCPS college-finishing rate is 20 points below the national average, only 40 percent of college-going JCPS seniors get a degree within six years


Summer melt’ is increasing

*Summer melt measures the difference between “college intenders” and “college attenders”

*20 percent of JCPS FAFSA filers did not enroll in college in 12 months


Fewer people are enrolling in college

*Louisville-area colleges have seen a 7,400 student decline since 2010

*Fewer adult learners are completing their degrees

*Persistence of adult learners – continued enrollment at any institution – has declined 13 percentage points over the past four years to 42 percent


Losing Talent

*If trends persist, only 1 in 3 local college graduates will be working in the Louisville area five years after graduation