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The Benefits of a Bachelor’s Degree

Obtaining a postsecondary credential is a big deal.  It has several noticeable benefits, making it a useful tool in finding future success.  For example, in Kentucky, people with a bachelor’s degree earn about $1 million more than a high school graduate.  Kentuckians with a bachelor’s degree have a median earning of $52K after ten years of graduation, while those with a high school diploma have a median earning of $30K ten years out. 

Bachelor’s degrees also impact workforce participation, with a greater percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree participating in the workforce than individuals with a high school diploma.  In Kentucky, 93% of individuals with a bachelor’s degree participate in the workforce, and 77% of individuals with a high school diploma participate in the workforce. 

When it comes to participation in public assistance programs, only 8% Kentuckians with a bachelor’s degree or higher receive public assistance.  This is a marked decrease compared to Kentuckians with a high school diploma, 30% of which receive assistance. 

These statistics reveal a broader benefit of bachelor’s degree attainment.  Bachelor’s degrees are more than a piece of paper; they can improve the economy and workforce as well.  In order to take advantage of these benefits, Kentucky has set a goal to boost postsecondary credential attainment.  The state aims to have 60% of its population with a postsecondary credential by 2030. 

Kentucky has already made progress toward this goal.  In the past five years, it has seen a 7% increase in undergraduate degrees and credentials.  This goes hand-in-hand with a 4.3 percentage point increase in the six-year graduation rate at public universities.  These statistics suggest that degree completions are on the rise.  

Additionally, Kentucky has seen closing completion gaps, with a 26% increase in underrepresented minority enrollment at public institutions, and a 34% increase in degrees and credentials given to underrepresented minority students. 

Overall, the postsecondary credential attainment rate in Kentucky is at 55% in 2023, and there has been a 4.8 percentage point increase in individuals with a postsecondary degree or credential.  Kentucky is making progress. 

While these successes are exciting, barriers remain to the 2030 goal.  Undergraduate enrollment has declined in the past ten years for key groups: low-income earners and adult learners.  Low-income learner enrollment is down 41%, and adult learner enrollment is down 46%.  Overall, Kentucky still lags behind the United States when it comes to baccalaureate degree attainment, with 29% of the state population holding a degree as opposed to 37% of the national population.   

Specific organizations have made it their mission to support students in degree attainment.  For example, the James Graham Brown Foundation donated $2 million to CPE to create the Kentucky Student Success Collaborative, or the KYSSC.  This initiative aims to aid students in higher education settings and degree attainment.  Over the course of two years, the KYSSC has drawn together $4 million in additional grants and cross-sector investment in higher education. 

The KYSSC has brought 2,963 Kentuckians together, engaging individuals from campus, workforce, community, and government sectors.  The initiative generates momentum by sharing best practices, with 84 opportunities to learn from state and national experts.  It has produced 24 statewide recommendations targeting improvements in three key areas.  The KYSSC hopes that these recommendations will propel Kentucky to its goal over the next six years. 

The first of the three key areas in which the KYSSC focuses is supporting student basic needs.  Across the United States, roughly 60% of students struggle with basic needs insecurity.  This has a significant impact on degree attainment, as only 20% of students who take a break from their education for financial reasons end up completing their credential. 

The second area is improving transfer pathways.  Currently, about one in ten students who begin on a transfer pathway will finish their bachelor’s degree in six years.  Finding ways to improve these pathways and boost the numbers of degree completion is important.

Finally, the KYSSC also focuses on increasing gateway course success.  Only one in three first-year students complete college-level math and English courses during their first year.  However, when gateway courses are provided successfully, they can have a major impact on retention.  For instance, from first year to second year, students who completed a gateway math course had 86% retention as opposed to 63% retention for students who did not complete a gateway math course. 

The KYSSC has already made a difference in degree attainment in Kentucky, and continues to strive for improved student success.  Targeting key areas allows for better outcomes, promoting a population of individuals with postsecondary credentials and degrees.  This in turn has a positive impact on the workforce and economy.  In the next several years, the KYSSC hopes to engage various stakeholders such as nonprofits, government entities, and workforce groups to address educational barriers and promote higher education. 

Kentucky Student Success Story in the Making
Source: Kentucky Student Success Collaborative

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