- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas needs to double the percentage of students who earn college degrees or training certificates in the next several years to compete in the changing U.S. economy, according to the state’s top education official.

Education Commissioner Randy Watson told a joint meeting of Senate and House education committees this past week that by 2020, 71 percent of the jobs in Kansas will require some level of post-secondary education, according to a report from the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute.

But the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks post-secondary enrollment and progress nationwide, said only about 65 percent of Kansas 2010 high school students enrolled in college the following year. Six years after graduation, fewer than 40 percent had earned any kind of degree or training certificate, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://bit.ly/2njIMhk ). And 23.4 percent of 2010 graduates in Kansas never enrolled in post-secondary school within six years of graduating.

Watson’s testimony came as Kansas lawmakers try to find solutions after the state Supreme Court ruled that current funding for K-12 education in the state is inadequate and unconstitutional.

“Do you see already the issue that the State Board (of Education) is wrestling with? If only 65 (percent) start, and we need 70 to 75 (percent), we already have a gap,” Watson said. “So this six-year picture is a good snapshot of, ‘What does K-12 need to do, what does the Kansas Legislature need to think about, and certainly what does higher education need to think about?’” Watson said.

The Georgetown study on job requirements has been widely discussed by both the State Board of Education and the Kansas Board of Regents.

Although Watson didn’t specifically mention costs, he has said that the department’s budget request seeking funding for the next two years is a response to a new long-range “KansasCan” vision for Kansas schools, which seeks to boost the state’s post-secondary attainment rate through more individualized programs. That budget request seeks $841 million in new funding over the next two fiscal years.

Sen. John Doll, a Republican from Garden City, asked how many students didn’t start or finish a post-secondary program because of the increasing cost of higher education in Kansas.

Watson said the National Student Clearinghouse data doesn’t track the reasons why students either don’t go to college or drop out. But he said the percentage of students entering college the first year after high school has not changed much since 2010, as tuition rates have gone up.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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