Creating Opportunity: Education Pathways to Advance Sustainable Employment

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This week Wednesday, May 29th, Higher Expectations for Racine County and Racine County  brought together community leaders in workforce and higher education to better understand what we can accomplish when we work together to overcome barriers to adult education for Racine residents. Along with the national nonprofit, CAEL (Council for Adult and Experiential Learning) the group brainstormed solutions to create a resilient and sustainable workforce for Racine County.

Research done in partnership with Racine County shines a light on the need for Racine to focus on higher education for adults. In 2015, 55% of the available jobs in Racine County required at least a bachelor's degree, but only 24% of Racine County residents have that credential. Additionally, post-recession economic recovery has shown that positions that require an associate's degree or more are more resilient in the face of a changing job market. Nationally, more than 3.1 million jobs were gained in the economic recovery for Americans with associate’s degree or some college and 8.4 million jobs for residents with a bachelor's degree were gained, compared to just 80 thousand jobs gained for those with only a high school level of education.

Higher education is also critically important to families in Racine. Lauren Marinoff, Data Fellow at Higher Expectations, created the Sustainable Wage Tool to show the wage/salary that a family in Racine needs to make in order to meet their basic needs. For a single parent with two young children, that means a salary of nearly 60 thousand dollars. For many job opportunities with salaries of that caliber, higher education is a required prerequisite to job entry.

Panel of higher education professionals shared their insights into collaborating to increase the number of options for adult learners in Racine County.  From left to right: Amanda Virzi, Director of College Access - Gateway Technical College. Crista Kruse, Continuing Education Director - UW-Parkside. Stacy Tinholt, Adult Student Coordinator - UW-Parkside. Dr. Bill Miller, Associate Provost for Continuing Studies - Carthage College. DeAnn Possehl, Post-Secondary Network Facilitator - Higher Expectations.

Panel of higher education professionals shared their insights into collaborating to increase the number of options for adult learners in Racine County.

From left to right: Amanda Virzi, Director of College Access - Gateway Technical College. Crista Kruse, Continuing Education Director - UW-Parkside. Stacy Tinholt, Adult Student Coordinator - UW-Parkside. Dr. Bill Miller, Associate Provost for Continuing Studies - Carthage College. DeAnn Possehl, Post-Secondary Network Facilitator - Higher Expectations.

In order to uplift Racine county residents and families, we need to work together to uncover and remove barriers to higher education for adult learners. Higher Expectations, in alignment with our Opportunity Fund goals, engaged CAEL (Council for Adult Experiential Learning) to create an Asset Inventory and uncover what opportunities and barriers exist for Racine residents seeking higher education credentials and family sustaining wages.

By accumulating data from focus groups and in-depth desktop research, CAEL found that the biggest gaps in service were in supportive services for adult learners and job seekers. This includes access to childcare and transportation services as well as a notable gap in mental health and counseling services for Racine County residents.

Based on this research, CAEL recommended bringing together service providers to align outreach efforts and opportunities for residents and increase resource sharing, as well as improving referrals in between workforce development programs and increasing transparency about services.

Fortunately, the three higher education institutions in and around Racine have been laying a foundation for collaborative work and have created more spaces for adult learners to re-enter academics and gain the credentials they need to access family-sustaining careers. In collaboration with Higher Expectations’ Lumina Talent Hub designation, Gateway Technical College, UW-Parkside, and Carthage College are working together to increase options for adult learners. For example, some of Gateway’s associate degree programs have embedded credentials so that students who need to exit school still have what they need to access jobs in the field they are earning their degree in. Additionally, some of Gateway’s associate degree programs have pathways to UW-Parkside or Carthage bachelor’s degree programs so that students can go seamlessly from Gateway to a four-year program and still earn a degree on-time.

Solutions like those of our higher education partners are why we brought the workforce development community together to collaborate on solutions for increasing the number of Racine County residents with family-sustaining jobs. Although there is more work to be done in order to create sustainable, accessible and streamlined services for Racine County residents, this event showed the value in working together to enhance services so that all Racine residents can benefit from the great opportunities that Racine has to offer.

Thank you to all who attended. A special thank you to Sarah Miller and Claire Linnemeir of CAEL and Racine County for working with us on this community event.


Elizabeth Erickson