As students at all levels head back to school in Rhode Island, it’s appropriate to examine the key role that education plays in lifting up wages and providing both individuals and communities with the tools necessary to fully engage in a rapidly evolving economy.
Here in Rhode Island, the extent to which “education pays” is starkly evident – the median wage of workers with a Bachelor’s degree or higher is $26.57/hour, more than double the $12.76 median wage of workers who lack a high school diploma. Governor Raimondo clearly understands the importance of attaining post-secondary credentials, publicly committing to a goal of having 70 percent of working-age Rhode Islanders with an associate’s degree or higher by 2025. This goal is incredibly ambitious (requiring more than a doubling of the current 31.3 percent), and will require a focus not only on young people graduating from high school (as the newly passed Rhode Island Promise initiative does) but also on adults currently in the workforce. In order to achieve those goals, we will also have to take bold action to close existing gaps that persist in educational attainment by race and ethnicity. Census data show that for working-age Rhode Islanders (those
18 to 64 years of age) of all races and ethnicities, about a third (31 percent) have an associates degree or higher. Among all Rhode Islanders 25 and older, the gaps based on race and ethnicity are considerable, with 21 percent of people who are Latino and 26 percent of people who are Black, holding associates degrees or higher, compared with 44 percent of people who are non-Hispanic
For Rhode Island to meet its educational goals and achieve its full economic potential, we need to make education – from early childhood education, through K-12, post-secondary, and beyond – a top priority, and invest accordingly. The future prosperity of Rhode Island requires that we get serious about educating all Rhode Islanders. We need to make “Back to School” more than just a two-week window at the end of the summer, but a decades-long mantra.