Chamber Executive Article Archive

Education Wins:
Six Game-changing Chambers Lead the Way

By Will Burns

Meeting regional workforce needs by raising postsecondary education attainment

The U.S. economy has added 11.6 million net new jobs since 2011. More than 99 percent of those jobs went to workers with at least some college education. For the first time ever, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher make up a larger share of the workforce than workers with a high school diploma or less. Given these trends, strategies to increase economic opportunity and boost regional competitiveness must focus on education attainment.

In many regions, chambers of commerce are leading the way, developing regional solutions to produce the talented workers needed to ensure stronger local economies and more vibrant communities. Here are examples of higher education attainment programs from the six winners of ACCE’s 2016-17 Award for Education Attainment. Award winners received a one-time $40,000 stimulus to bolster their established efforts to increase postsecondary attainment in their region.

Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce (Mo.)
The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce is an active partner in the Springfield Higher Education Project 2025, a Lumina Community Partnership for Attainment that seeks to raise postsecondary education attainment to 60 percent by 2025. In support of this goal, the chamber is working with local employers to encourage the use of tuition assistance programs, providing resources and in-person support. In addition, the chamber partners with the region's four largest post-secondary institutions to identify individuals who have some college or no degree that could benefit from tuition assistance or employer support programs. To engage students while they are still in high school, the chamber launched the Greater Ozarks Center for Advanced Professional Studies (GO CAPS). This innovative year-long, immersive career exploration program for high school juniors and seniors helps nearly 200 students navigate college and career pathways in target industries. The chamber is working to improve its efforts by hosting tuition assistance start-up seminars, enhancing one-on-one consultations with employers, and organizing a cohort of adult learners seeking degree or certificate completion for mutual support.

Austin Chamber of Commerce (Texas)
The Austin Chamber of Commerce leads the Direct-to-College Achievement Plan, or DTC70, which is a multi-chamber, multi-school district, multi-business compact committed to enrolling 70 percent of 2016 high school graduates directly in higher education. The chamber and other business partners work to identify strategies to increase college going rates, coordinate outreach to help families complete the financial aid process, advocate policies to support DTC70 goals and track progress on DTC70 goals. The chamber improved access to real-time, actionable data for high school counselors through a regional College Ready Portal. Despite the success of the portal, the data is only accessible to councilors, not parents or students. In order to advance the goals of DTC70, the chamber is working to develop a parent and student facing portal that will track key college enrollment milestones, provide targeted support to students and parents and standardize and automate data uploads to track state aid applications.

Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce (Texas)
The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce formed a collaborative partnership between business, government and academia to increase postsecondary enrollment, persistence and completion rates. The goal of the partnership is to increase the number of students in the El Paso region who complete the Free Application for Federal Students Aid (FAFSA) to 70 percent by 2025 in order to help the region increase its higher education attainment rate. To do this the chamber is expanding the reach of its FAFSA Nights program, a program that helps thousands of high school seniors in the El Paso community complete their FAFSA applications each year. In 2012, 47.4 percent of high school seniors (5,346) completed FAFSA. In 2016, that figure was 58.8 percent (7,120), the highest completion rate in the state. The chamber is working to build on its positive momentum by developing a new marketing campaign and mobile app to provide high school seniors and their parents targeted information and reminders related to their financial aid applications and upcoming FAFSA Night events.

JAX Chamber (Fla.)
The JAX Chamber launched its Earn Up program in 2014. This ambitious collaborative, includes more than 25 regional partners working together to address northeast Florida’s workforce needs by promoting higher education attainment. Earn Up’s goal is to increase the percentage of workers holding a postsecondary certificate or degree to 60 percent by 2025. Military veterans are one of Earn Up’s target audiences. Nearly 3,000 service members transition out of the military in Jacksonville each year, many with no college degree. Earn Up seeks to provide transitioning service members and their spouses with useful information about regional education and job opportunities. Together with local military leaders, the JAX Chamber has formed the Northeast Florida Military Veteran College Network, a large working committee of Earn Up, to develop resources for veterans and advocate for expanded and unified use of prior learning assessments to help service members earn college credit based on military experiences, training and coursework. To further assist business, education, community and military leaders, the chamber plans to create an institution-neutral education concierge to help answer questions and guide veterans in their education choices.

Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce (S.C.)
The Charleston Metro Chamber is working to ensure that high school graduates are college and career ready and that local higher education institutions offer degree and certificate programs that meet the talent needs of the region’s high growth industries. The Chamber worked with community partners to develop more than 60 career academies in the region. Career academy students can apply for an Accelerate Greater Charleston scholarship, which covers two-year tuition and books at Trident Technical College (TCC) to earn an associate’s degree in their career field. The program has grown from 12 scholarships in 2014 to 75 scholarships in 2016. In addition, the chamber’s Youth Apprenticeship Program is a two-year program that provides high school juniors and seniors dual credit and work-based learning opportunities through internships with local employers. Upon completion, students earn a high school diploma, certification in a specific field from TCC, credentialing from the U.S. Department of Labor and two years of paid work experience. With the growth of its efforts, the chamber is planning to hire a scholarship manager to help provide guidance and ensure student success.

The Business Council of New York State
The Business Council of New York State (BCNYS) and its affiliated organization, the Public Policy Institute of New York State (PPI), have established a long term goal to address the state's skills gap. As a result, BCNYS established the New York State Pathways in Technology Early College High School (NYS P-TECH) Leadership Council in 2013 to scale innovative P-TECH 9-14 schools. The schools bring together K-12 education, higher education and employers to offer an integrated six-year program. Participating students master professional skills while earning a high school diploma and an industry-recognized, two-year college degree at no cost. In 2016, BCNYS increased participation to 2,000 ninth grade students entering P-TECH programs in 37 schools, with the support of nearly 300 employer partners. To achieve this growth, BCNYS helped employers become better partners by hosting regional sessions on how to partner with NYS P-TECH schools and other education partners to offer effective work-based learning opportunities to students. It also created an enhanced online version of the NYS P-TECH Work-Based Learning Toolkit that includes additional tools for employers.

In 2016, for the first time ever, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher outnumber workers with a high school diploma or less.


Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of Current Population Survey (CPS) data, 2007-2016.
Note: Employment includes all workers age 18 and older. The monthly employment numbers are seasonally adjusted using the U.S. Census Bureau X-12 procedure and smoothed using a four-month moving average.


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Six Game-changing Chambers Lead the Way
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