Education, Higher Ed, NC Budget and Tax Center

Reaching our state’s educational attainment goal

At this time of year, graduation stories are ever-present, yet their broader meaning to the strength of our economy is less discussed, as are the real barriers to completion that many young people face.

The research is clear that states with large numbers of bachelor’s degree holders have higher median wage levels than other states, according to the Economic Policy Institute. An advanced education also helps make workers more upwardly mobile in North Carolina. The Working Poor Families Project reports that the median earned income for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $18,000 higher than for someone with only a high school diploma.

Recognizing these real economic and community benefits, state leaders through the myFutureNC commission have set a post-secondary attainment goal that by 2030, two-thirds of North Carolinians aged 25 to 44  will hold a post-secondary degree, with a commitment to ensure that workers are acquiring skills and credentials that align with the goals of the state.

One overlooked source of people who can help North Carolina reach its goal are the Dreamers who have been educated here in North Carolina and are blocked from a pathway to post-secondary attainment due to their arrival to this country without documentation, as well as the lack of a tuition equity policy in our state.  Dreamers seeking to attend college in North Carolina are forced to pay out-of-state tuition – often 300 percent higher than the in-state tuition their peers pay – despite having spent their childhoods enrolled in North Carolina schools. In recognition of the inequity this creates, 21 states across the country have set up policies that recognize the investment that young people have in their educational futures and that communities have made in their education to date.

Estimates based on new data from the Migration Policy Institute suggest that, in North Carolina, an expanded tuition equity policy could benefit at least 1,470 graduates each year.

In a brief we released earlier today, Lissette Guerrero looks at the already significant economic contributions of all foreign-born workers and notes the critical role that post-secondary attainment and access to skills training for adult workers could provide in further boosting the economic and community contributions of these workers.

Indeed, as we have written about in the past on the topic of tuition equity, tuition equity can improve educational opportunities for young people in North Carolina and in turn boost employment outcomes and the productivity and growth of industries and the broader economy.

Tuition equity led to a 31 percent increase in college enrollment for undocumented students and a 33 percent increase in the proportion of Mexican young adults with a college degree in the states that adopted the policy. In addition, the average high school dropout rate decreased by 7 percentage points—from 42 percent to 35 percent—in states with tuition equity.

As yesterday’s Undocugraduation event demonstrated, the potential of young Dreamers is vast and important and to continue to block these youth from accessing post-secondary education would  put that potential to waste.

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