Education beyond high school for all is key to Florida's economic recovery
COVID-19 accelerates the urgency to close equity gaps and build a well-educated talent force.
Sometimes a crisis will transform a mission that’s important into one that’s urgent, too.
For some time, the data crunchers at the Florida College Access Network were reading tea leaves suggesting that Florida needed to boost the number of residents with a degree or credential after high school and close the opportunity gap that held back people of color.
Low-education jobs were at risk of being automated. The workers who recovered best from the Great Recession had at least some college. And the majority of Florida workers would be Black or Hispanic by 2030, yet those groups lagged in college degree attainment.
Then COVID-19 hit, and FCAN’s mission became the urgent cornerstone of Florida’s economic recovery.
A May survey of Florida voters conducted for FCAN by Sachs Media Group found that 58% of Floridians had experienced job loss, pay cuts or a reduction of hours due to COVID-19, and more than one-third of residents believed they’ll need additional training or education to find work at the same pay level. The hardest hit were the people with the least education.
Alarmingly, 42% of Floridians who were currently enrolled in college or a postsecondary training program said they had changed plans — including suspending or delaying further education.
“These findings are troubling because education is the key to getting Floridians back to work in well-paying, in-demand jobs,” comments Laurie Meggesin, FCAN’s executive director.
Nationally, U.S. Department of Labor statistics showed that approximately 40 million people lost their jobs during April and May. Florida’s tourism-heavy sectors of the economy were especially ravaged.
“If our policymakers focus on breaking down the barriers and make it a priority for all Floridians to complete degrees and credentials beyond high school, we have an opportunity to rebuild a much stronger economy than before,” Meggesin says.
Bob Ward, president and CEO of the Florida Council of 100, a collective of more than 120 business leaders that promote the economic growth of Florida, agrees.
“Florida’s business leaders understand clearly that for the future of our economy, the state has to focus additional efforts to improve talent access and attainment and couple degree and certificate production with workforce need,” Ward says. “COVID-19 only made this profoundly more important.”
Consider that 67% of new Florida jobs by 2025 will require some form of postsecondary education, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Also, all of Florida’s fastest-growing occupations will require at least a technical certificate for an entry-level job.
Even before COVID-19, the State of Florida set a goal through its SAIL to 60 Initiative to increase the percentage of Florida adults holding high-value postsecondary degrees, certificates or training experiences to 60% by 2030. The current rate is 52%.
Through collaboration, FCAN and regional partnerships called local college access networks are working to close that education gap because the better educated the state’s talent pool, the more Floridians will enjoy economic mobility and create a stronger and more competitive economy for Florida.
“We need to replace the old mindset that college isn’t for everyone, with the new truth that everyone needs a degree or credential beyond high school to succeed in Florida’s rapidly evolving economy,” Meggesin says.
58% of Floridians experienced job loss, pay cuts or a reduction of hours due to COVID-19.
67% of new Florida jobs by 2025 will require some form of postsecondary education.
For more research and data from FCAN, visit www.floridacollegeaccess.org.
Florida College Access Network (FCAN) leads the collaborative movement to ensure every Floridian achieves an education beyond high school and a rewarding career. We envision a Florida working together where education is the pathway to economic mobility for all.