LC Bulletin: Education to improve economic development

September 9, 2011. Retrieved online September 13, 2011 from Natisha Hales, Las Cruces Bulletin

DAC dropout rates still trouble local board members

When we talk about how we build a stronger economy, whether it’s for our county, state or the nation, we focus on attracting specific types of industries, economic gardening of local businesses and maximizing the assets we have. One of our most significant assets is the one The Bridge of Southern New Mexico is focused on – our future workforce.

Today’s high school or college student is tomorrow’s employee, entrepreneur, innovator and leader. When they succeed, we all succeed.

One of the strongest economic development strategies we have as a state is to improve our graduation rates. We need to help young people stay in school, hit those completion points of high school and college graduation and leave their education with degrees and certifications that show they are ready to contribute not just to their employer or business, but to the overall economy.

A recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce reported on the lifetime earnings of individuals as related to their educational attainment. The study showed median lifetime earnings – full-time, full year workers from 25 to 64 years old.

Less than high school (dropout): $973,000
High school diploma: $1,304,000
Some college/no degree: $1,547,000
Associate degree: $1,727,000
Bachelor’s degree: $2,268,000

Of course, those who held master’s, doctoral or professional degrees went up even higher.

Looking at the difference in lifetime incomes, it’s clear that when one student drops out before completing high school, our economy loses anywhere from $331,000 to $1.3 million of economic impact over his or her lifetime. That’s money not flowing through grocery stores, restaurants, furniture dealers, auto dealers and other retailers. It’s money that is not supporting the existing jobs in existing businesses, nor attracting new jobs and new businesses that see the potential for success in our area.

To break these numbers down even more, state median annual earning numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau from a 2005-09 American Community Survey hone in on what educational achievement means for New Mexico’s residents each year. Median incomes by level of education were:

Less than high school (dropout): $16,587
High school graduate: $24,070
Some college or associate degree: $28,784
Bachelor’s degree: $41,180

The numbers are revealing. If we subtract the average income of a dropout from a high school graduate or college graduate, we get a range of $7,500 to $24,600 in additional annual income per person. The bottom line is that if we want to build the individual wealth – incomes – of our community, we need to encourage our youth to stay in school, graduate and aim for a minimum of a two-year college degree or certification.

We need to create the pathways for success that make the connections between relationship, relevance and rigor in education that are the foundations upon which student success is built.

That’s the beauty of the very unique conversations that take place among The Bridge’s board members who represent the county’s leaders in business, economic development, government and education. We understand and appreciate the impact of a teacher, a principal, a professor, a school, a community college and a university and how they work to propel us forward.

Clearly, we are on the right track. Thanks to the commitment of our school districts and the involvement of hundreds of people, businesses and organizations, we are moving in the right direction.

The Annie E. Casey KIDS COUNT Data Center recently released its numbers for 2009. It showed a high school graduation rate in Doña Ana County went from 51 percent in 2008 to 67 percent in 2009. Not only is that great news for schools, students and families, it’s great news for our community. According to KIDS COUNT, there are 47,463 children and youth countywide between the ages of 5 and 19. In 2008, we could have projected that half of those students would have dropped out, but now only one-third – which is still too many. However, just looking at those numbers, we could conclude there would be a potential improvement in annual economic impact of somewhere between $60 million to $198 million. Talk about strengthening the economy.

If we succeed in doing this right, our future workforce becomes one of a host of reasons that companies want to do business here. That’s why education and economic development must work hand-in-hand to move our county and our state forward.

Tracey Bryan is president and CEO of The Bridge, a nonprofit organization that brings together business, economic development, government and education to create a stronger, well-qualified workforce in Doña Ana County. The Bridge’s top priority is to increase the high school graduation rate in the county and the nonprofit’s work has led to the creation of the state’s first Early College High School on the Arrowhead Center campus at New Mexico State University. To contact Bryan, email

Read the Las Cruces Bulletin article.

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