Detroit Regional Chamber > Chamber > 2022 State of Education: COVID-19 Threatens Already Leaky Talent Pipeline, Jeopardizes Educational Attainment Goals and Regional Economy

2022 State of Education: COVID-19 Threatens Already Leaky Talent Pipeline, Jeopardizes Educational Attainment Goals and Regional Economy

April 7, 2022

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The Detroit region’s talent pipeline is down at every level with increasing leaks amid COVID-19 and the tight labor market, which poses a threat to achieving educational attainment goals, the region’s economy, and employers who need talent to stay competitive. That was the key takeaway as Detroit Regional Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Sandy K. Baruah presented the third annual State of the Education report to business, community, and education leaders.

“(This report) is an alarm bell for all of us, we need to do a lot of collective work,” said Baruah during the State of Talent: Helping Business Plan for the Future event.

“Leaks” in the talent pipeline occur when students exit school without earning a degree or credential. Currently, the Detroit region’s postsecondary degree or credential attainment rate is at 50%, as the Chamber leads efforts to reach 60% and cut the racial equity gap in half by 2030.

Cities considered “best in class” in postsecondary attainment are Seattle (65%) and Minneapolis (62%). However, Baruah highlighted, the Detroit region’s recent gains in attainment are not coming at the pace needed to catch competitors as the talent crisis is reaching new levels amid intense competition.

Talent Pipeline Leaks Likely to Become Worse Following Pandemic

While high school graduation rates for the region remain near the national rate, postsecondary enrollment continues to trend downward for the city and region as graduation rates do not yet show the full impact of the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, the leaks in the pipeline were bad. For instance, out of a cohort of 100 ninth graders in 2011, only 81 would graduate high school on time, only 60 would enroll in college, and only 33 of that 100 would have earned a degree or credential by 2020.

“You can see the leaks are not small,” said Baruah. In fact, nearly half of college students in the region have not earned a degree within six years, and of those students, approximately one-third are not even enrolled in college – reflecting the extent of the leaks in the talent pipeline prior to the pandemic.

The news is not any better in terms of adult attainment, as adult degree completions have dropped 24% over five years, continuing a downward trend. In fact, adult students over the age of 24 had the highest postsecondary dropout rates (at 39%) among students returning to college in the fall of 2020, a data point reflecting the initial impact of the pandemic.

While much of the data on the pandemic’s impact is yet to come, it’s already evident that equity gaps have also widened. Students enrolling in college from high-poverty high schools fell by 10% in 2020 leaving a 28-percentage point gap in enrollment between students from low-poverty and high-poverty high schools. The pandemic has also further illuminated disparities in college enrollment and degree attainment of Black and Latino students, according to the report.

Path to 60% Requires Focus on High School Students, Adult Attainment, and Equity Gaps

Despite the looming talent pipeline challenges, Baruah outlined the formula for the region to achieve the educational attainment goals by 2030, which requires adding 265,000 degrees and credentials beyond current projections. As part of those efforts, the region and state must focus on traditional high school students, adult attainment, and closing equity gaps.

This three-pronged approach requires actions such as:

  • Increasing high school graduates’ enrollment into college by 20% and participation in college-readiness interventions by 20%.
  • Doubling adult college enrollment and increasing adult college completion by 35%.
  • Breaking down equity gaps by adding 90,000 degrees earned by Black students and 15,000 degrees earned by Latino students beyond what is currently projected.

“There is no way to achieve our 60% goal without closing the unacceptable equity gaps that exist today,” said Baruah, who explained that Michigan’s population challenges mean the attainment focus must be beyond just traditional high school students and include adults and closing the equity gap. “This is an issue that matters to all of us,” he added.

Achieving the 60% by 2030 goal would result in real economic gains for the region and residents by adding an additional $51 billion of income flowing into households as every percentage point increase in the rate of individuals with bachelor’s degrees or higher increases per capita income by $1,500 annually.

“These postsecondary credentials are good for individuals, good for families, and good for their communities, let alone good for businesses,” Baruah said.

Explore the full 2022 State of Education Report.


2022 State of Talent: Business Needs ‘To Roll Up Sleeves’ as Region Works Toward Attainment Goals

2022 State of Talent Panel: Hidden Workers and Innovative Practices Help Fill the Talent Pipeline; Flexibility Creates Balance During Return-to-Work