Back-to-School Series, Part 4: Educational Attainment in Montana

In part 4 of our back-to-school series, we’re taking an overall look at educational attainment in Montana and what the results mean for our families, businesses, and the economy.

The most recent statistics (2013) indicate that the majority of individuals 25 years or older have at least some college education or have obtained a higher education degree (see table below). Clearly, these individuals experience higher earnings throughout the course of their working careers and as a result, are less likely to experience poverty. For example, only 5% of those with a Bachelor’s or Professional degree reported living in poverty in 2013.

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Career opportunities are limited for those who obtain a high school diploma, GED, or even leave school before the 12th grade, resulting in far lower income and a greater likelihood of experiencing into poverty. About 260,000 individuals in Montana have a high school diploma, GED, or did not graduate in 2013.

These statistics aren’t new. We all know that education is an essential ingredient to achieving economic security throughout one’s life. Access to a quality and affordable education provides you with the training and skills you need to obtain a secure career, which helps you support your family, and provides you with the means to contribute back to your local economy.

In 2015, more and more Montanans are reaching the age of retirement and considering leaving the workforce. As a result, our state faces a worker shortage of about 137,000 individuals, but there are not enough young adults entering the workforce with the necessary education and training  required to fill these projected job vacancies.

With this shortage looming, there is a great need for policies that support students in school and make it more affordable for them to attend higher education institutions throughout the state. As mentioned in past blogs, during the past legislative session we saw increased funding to K-12 public schools, tuition freezes in the Montana University system, and a slight increase to the reimbursement amount for tribal colleges with non-Indian students.

More can be done to make college more affordable though. Tuition freezes reduce the cost of attending a 2-or-4-year campus for resident students now, but this freeze only lasts through to 2018. The 2017 legislature is the perfect opportunity to enact long-lasting policies that give all Montana students the opportunity to attend college and university. Additionally, policies that address sky-rocketing student-loan debt or provide loan forgiveness options will ensure that even with a higher education degree, fewer individuals will enter the workforce with extreme debt and will be able to establish economic security sooner.

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