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Missouri’s Black, Hispanic, rural populations focus for workforce credentialing

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(The Center Square) – If Missouri is going to meet the demand for a skilled workforce, more Black, Hispanic and rural students must earn a credential after high school, according to a new report.

In its recently published strategic plan, “Sixty For All,” the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development (MDHEWD) forecast a gap of 243,000 Missouri workers without a postsecondary credential to meet its goal of 60% with a credential or higher by 2030. The goal was set in 2019 for Missourians ages 25 to 64 to attain a credential or higher. It also set a goal of 70% of Missourians participating in the workforce.

The 47-page plan projects a 6% deficit, or a “substantial gap” of credentialed workers by 2030. Approximately 100,000 traditional-aged students could be targeted for certifications when they’re counted as adults in 2030, leaving a gap of 150,000 workers without a credential or degree.

“The urgency is compounded by the fact that Black, Hispanic and rural adults face attainment rates of about 28%, illustrating a substantial gap to be filled in the coming years,” the plan reported. “To meet the state’s 60% attainment goal and address equity disparities, it is recommended that Missouri set a progress attainment goal. That is, instead of a broad approach whereby the state will focus on closing the 150,000-person credential gap by 2030, the state should instead channel efforts specifically toward Black, Hispanic and rural populations and close that 150,000-person attainment gap by the year 2028.”

The plan is a collaboration with the Education Strategy Group and the Missouri College and Career Attainment Network. The plan includes a financial aid program for high-demand credentials and coordination of 23 job centers throughout the state.

“The practical and actionable strategies in this framework prioritize helping adult learners further their education and training, which will strengthen Missouri’s workforce and economy,” Bennett Boggs, commissioner of the MDHEWD, said in a statement.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reported 17,788, or 29% of high school students, entered the workforce after graduating during the 2022-2023 school year, and another 1,201, or 2%, entered the military. It reported 3.9% of Black students (1,703) dropped out of Missouri public high schools during the 2022-23 school year, up from 2.8% (1,169) during the 2020-2021 school year. Approximately 3% of Hispanic students (700) dropped out of Missouri’s public high schools last year compared to 1.2% of white students (2,400).

A 2021 MDHEWD report, “Building Missouri’s Future,” stated Black (95,000), Hispanic (33,000) and rural workers (215,000) would be needed to achieve the participation rate.

“Given the low numbers, even a small increase in an enrollment target will yield significant gains in credential attainment,” the current plan stated. “If Missouri were to double down on enrollment efforts for Black, Hispanic and rural students and enroll a target of 24,000 or around 2% for equity populations, the state would see an estimated 70,000 adult students earn a postsecondary credential by 2028.”

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