By Amia Foston
As a kid, I loved numbers. I loved the certainty they provided when counting items and comparing groups. Even today, my love for numbers — and data, more broadly — has not wavered. Numbers tell where you stand: good or bad. They can be a cause for celebration or a call to action. As an adult, I work with my colleagues at Lumina Foundation to increase the nation’s attainment numbers.
Lumina is a private foundation focused on expanding learning beyond high school for all. To measure the nation’s progress, we set an ambitious goal in 2008 that 60 percent of Americans ages 25 to 64 would earn a degree or other high-quality credential by 2025. Today’s national attainment rate is 47.6 percent. If we are to substantially grow that number and improve the lives of our people, we must reach adults who face obstacles to learning.
Adults play a vital role in meeting America’s need for talent. Our 2025 goal forced Lumina a few years back to focus on populations beyond traditional-aged students and to consider credentials other than degrees. We knew that we couldn’t just concentrate on 18- to 24-year-olds, but we also realized that the 25- to 64-year-old group is complex. Some adults have earned college credits without completing a degree, while others have no college experience, though they may have earned other credentials to help navigate the labor force and provide for their families. These insights drive Lumina’s interest in adding more non-degree credentials to the attainment calculation and fully understanding adult learners.
As part of that effort, Lumina partnered with Strada Education Network to publish reports using data from the Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey. The first report– “Certified Value” — compares adults who have a certificate or certification to those who lack such a credential. In short, the survey shows that adults with a certificate or certification earn higher wages, are more likely to be employed full time, and are more likely to recommend their educational path to their peers. They also believe they are more marketable to employers. The findings are especially promising because they hold true across key demographic groups, including race and ethnicity.
This is real progress: We see how adults without degrees can set themselves apart in the workforce, and we’ve strengthened the case for including more non-degree credentials in the national attainment calculation. But Lumina’s mission has never just been about numbers. Our work, informed by these results, is about transforming education to be more student-focused, affordable and equitable so all Americans can learn, earn and live their best lives.