Boston, MA – June 8, 2016 – The rate at which Massachusetts residents earn college degrees will pivot from growth to decline by 2022 unless the state’s public higher education system, which educates more than half of all undergraduates, is able to increase the number of students who enroll and earn diplomas, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education reported today.
The Degree Gap, the Department’s annual Vision Project report on the status of public higher education in the Commonwealth, was released at an event held at The Boston Foundation this morning. The report suggests that employers who are already having difficulty meeting current workforce needs in high-demand fields will face even greater challenges in the next few years, as the state’s high school population continues to decline at the same time that an estimated 660,000 college-educated workers plan to retire. Of those job openings requiring post-secondary education or training, two-thirds will require a college degree. Increasingly, the higher education system will also be called upon to leverage its traditional role of offering associate’s and bachelor’s degrees by also offering certificate and continuing education programs to ensure that students develop career skills needed to be successful. The demographic challenges facing the state mean that public colleges and universities are likely to fall short of meeting the need for new associate and bachelor’s degrees by 55,000 to 65,000. The Degree Gap predicts that 80% of those “missing” degrees needed to fill the state’s talent pool in the next decade will be at the baccalaureate level or higher.
“The Degree Gap highlights important issues our Commonwealth must address to prepare our workforce to fill jobs which are currently going unfilled, and help employers find skilled employees in the future,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “It’s clear we need more degree earners and certificate program graduates, including those in the critical STEM fields, and I am pleased our administration has already taken steps to start tackling these challenges.”
“Studies have shown that the vast majority of Massachusetts job openings in the next decade will require a degree or certificate beyond high school, and our administration is working hard to expand training and educational opportunities,” said Secretary of Education Jim Peyser. “The higher education system is a critical partner in helping our students and workers meet the needs of our changing economy, and we are focusing on ensuring they are prepared to succeed in college and in their careers.”
“The Degree Gap affirms that the state’s public higher education system must redouble its efforts to help more students earn college credentials, especially those from underrepresented communities who are much less likely to earn degrees,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Commissioner of Higher Education. “I will urge the leadership of our system to focus on what we are calling ‘The Big Three’ priorities for the coming academic year: making college more accessible and affordable, closing achievement gaps, and improving completion rates.”
The report’s findings align with several recent economic forecasts that project that a lack of available talent may constrain economic growth. Although the Commonwealth has more adult degree-holders than any other state—51.5 percent of adults ages 25–54—the state is projected to end the decade with fewer working age college-educated residents than it began with unless the rate of degree production improves.