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Opportunity Miami

What’s next for education: bring people off the sidelines

This is the September 13, 2022 edition of the Opportunity Miami newsletter written by Matt Haggman, which we send every Tuesday. Click here to subscribe to get our weekly updates in your inbox.

To see what drives change and success in a community, look at the educational institutions there.

In Miami’s short history, it has built educational institutions with size and reach across the community, said Jamie Merisotis, CEO of Lumina Foundation, who spoke Thursday at our first Opportunity Miami Live event with the Academic Leaders Council. This ranges from Miami Dade College as the largest campus-based college in the US to Florida International University as the fifth-largest and most diverse public research university to Florida Memorial University as one of the oldest historically black colleges and universities in the country.

As a result, Miami today “has the opportunity to build a uniquely diverse, highly qualified and skilled workforce,” said Merisotis, who spoke at The Idea Center at Miami Dade College, which hosted the event with the Academic Leaders Council that includes all six presidents of Miami area colleges and universities and the Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

But as we emerge from the pandemic, Merisotis also said that we — as a community and country — have a big problem to solve that is critical for our economic future. Namely, we must address the rapid decline in college enrollment.

Over the past year, college enrollment nationally has been down nearly five percent, Merisotis said. That’s a drop of some 680,000 students. And over the past two years, the number was nearly double that amount, some 1.3 million students.

The hardest hit has been community colleges, with an enrollment drop of some eight percent. And it gets worse for specific student groups. College enrollment has dropped 20 percent for students between 18 and 24 years old and 16 percent for all adult students, with women declining the most.

Even more pressing, enrollment of Black students in two-year colleges is down nearly 25 percent since the start of the pandemic. Hispanic student enrollment is down some 15 percent.

When COVID hit, there were already 2.5 million fewer students in colleges and universities than in 2012. The 1.3 million drop in students during COVID is on top of the 2.5 million lost the previous decade.

But this isn’t because people don’t want to go to college, Merisotis said. A Gallup/Lumina survey found high demand for post-high school learning, but people struggle to access or afford it. For instance, some 85 percent who dropped out of school during the pandemic said they wanted to return.

In Merisotis’ view, the “stagnation of the number of Americans with the education required to participate and prosper in today’s economy is an existential threat.”

Citing an article by writer Jon Marcus in The Hechinger Report, Merisotis said that people without education past high school earn significantly less than those with bachelor’s degrees, are more likely to be unemployed, and live in poverty. But also are more prone to depression, live shorter lives, need more government assistance, pay less in taxes, divorce more frequently, and vote and volunteer less often.

To turn the tide of declining enrollment, Merosotis said, educational institutions need to accelerate changes to meet the needs of a student body that’s older, more diverse, and often stretched thin when it comes to time and money. Indeed, nearly half of today’s students pay their own bills, a quarter are raising kids, and some two-thirds work while in school, he said.

“Let’s stop telling ourselves the problem is that people don’t value college degrees, and instead focus on the real barriers that keep them from enrolling in the first place,” he said.

This includes a lack of financial aid, cumbersome bureaucracy, a lack of clear pathways to careers, and a lack of other supports that today’s learners need, like childcare, Merisotis said.

This is something all of us across Greater Miami should think hard about.

In Florida, when including degrees and other types of postgraduates certification, educational attainment is about 53 percent, Merisotis said. A little bit higher than the national average.

But, even as our population becomes more diverse, educational attainment for Hispanics is only 37 percent, and for Black students it’s 31 percent, according to Merisotis. In Miami-Dade County, about 42 percent of residents hold an associate’s degree or higher.

“Quite frankly, that’s not good enough for the state’s largest population center and its engine of opportunity and wealth creation,” Merisotis said.

The math is self-evident and inexorable, he continued. We can’t sustain the growth trajectory that Greater Miami, Florida, and our country have enjoyed “unless we bring more people off the sidelines.”

Unless we address these stubborn imbalances, Merisotis concluded, the future of our economy is “at risk.”

Next week we will share his entire speech as a podcast. We look forward to sharing it with you. In the meantime, a hearty thank you to Miami Dade College President Madeline Pumariega for hosting our inaugural event.

On a separate note, I will be a panelist on Wednesday at the Smart City Expo, which takes place on September 14 and 15 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. If you’re attending, I hope to see you.

As always, we want to hear from you. We would love to hear your ideas on people, organizations, and trends that are pivotal to Miami’s economic future. You can email us at next@opportunity.miami or engage with us on social media. Please invite friends to subscribe to the newsletter here.

Matt Haggman
Opportunity Miami



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