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Bridging Maryland’s attainment gap

613,138.

That is the number of adult Marylanders who the National Student Clearinghouse reports as having “some college, no credential” and who are not currently enrolled. 613,000 is a staggering number – representing 13 percent of all Maryland adults — but one that also represents a significant opportunity for our state, and especially for those Marylanders who began their postsecondary journeys but never completed them.

Aside from the lost economic benefits that having a postsecondary credential affords the graduate (estimated, on average, to be worth $1 million), businesses in Maryland increasingly rely on talent who possess some form of education beyond high school.

According to the Census Bureau, poverty rates decline from 19.4 percent for those with less than a high school diploma to 11.4 percent for those who do, but drop to 7.0 percent for those with some college or an associate’s degree, and even further to a scant 3.1 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Higher rates of postsecondary attainment translate into lower rates of poverty, meaning less money that needs to be spent by government on social services. Like all statistics, though, disaggregating the data paint a fuller picture which helps target resources and address inequities.

For starters, Maryland has an attainment gap that is stratified by race. Of the nearly two million Marylanders who hold a baccalaureate degree or higher as reported by the Census Bureau, 45.9 percent of whites hold a degree, but only 31.1 percent of Blacks and 23.8 percent of Hispanics have earned the same degrees. Asians, on the other hand, have a 63.7 percent attainment rate.

If Maryland is to meet its goal of having at least 55 percent of 25-64-year-olds holding at least an associate’s degree by 2025, closing the attainment gap and helping some of those nearly 600,00+ Marylanders complete their degrees are its only options, but even here, solutions vary by geography.

According to the Lumina Foundation, one of the nation’s leading higher education philanthropic organizations, and its 2019 Stronger Nation report, only two counties – Howard (70.7%) and Montgomery (65.0%) – have already met the state’s attainment goal. Two more – Anne Arundel (52.0%) and Frederick (52.4%) –  are closing in, and Baltimore County (48.7%) and Harford County (49.3%) are approaching the 50 percent mark.

But the other 17 counties, as well as Baltimore city, trail further behind. On the Eastern Shore, three counties are in the 20s, and in the panhandle, three counties barely crack the 30s. Baltimore city sits at 39 percent, far below the state average of 49.7 percent.

If a strong Maryland requires a strong city of Baltimore, then we need to figure out how to help the more than 100,000 Baltimoreans that the Census Bureau reports as having some college and no degree – albeit some of whom are still enrolled – find a path to completion.

Nearly every state has established its own college attainment goals, and for most states, those goals also include residents who have earned short-term credentials and industry-recognized certifications, not just degrees. If Maryland were to amend its statutory goal of 55 percent to include credentials and high-value certificates, then we would have exceeded our attainment goal years ago as we had reached 55.9 percent in 2019.

But neighboring states like Pennsylvania, which established a 60 percent goal by 2025, and Virginia, which is aiming for 70 percent by 2030 and the mantle of being named the “Best State for Education,” are aiming much higher.

The path to completion for these 600,000+ Marylanders is one that will require a concerted effort which meets people where they are. And where they are, right now, is wondering if their next governor understands what it means to have accumulated some credits, but no degree, and what it would mean to them – and to Maryland — if they did.

Gregory Schuckman was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan to serve on the Maryland Education Council as a commissioner from Maryland to the Education Commission of the States (2018-) and was previously appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to serve on the Maryland Higher Education Commission (2011-15).