THERE’S been a substantial amount of discussion about the ‘need’ to increase the number of college graduates in Maine to close the purported skills gap and boost Maine’s economy. In short, the lack of skilled and educated labor in the state is restraining the state’s economy as job opportunities remain unfilled. One might conclude from those discussions that Maine is an education crisis, but the data does not support that conclusion. Specifically, both the percentage of, and total persons in, the population with higher levels of education have increased over the past 8 years plus. The below two graphs use data compiled from the American Community Survey, and plots the percentage of the population by age group with a high school diploma or higher education level, and the percentage of the population by age group with a bachelor’s degree or higher education level:
Since 2005 (the earliest the data is available), the percentage of persons with a bachelor’s degree or higher has increased 2.8 percentage points for 25 – 34 year olds, 4 percentage points for 35 – 44 year olds, and 0.2 percentage points for 45+ year olds. Furthermore, in nominal terms, the number of persons with some college or an Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree has increased substantially since 2003:
In 2003, 217,000 persons held a bachelor’s degree or higher, and by 2012 that number grew by 25% to 273,000. Similarly, those with some college or holding an Associate’s degree grew by 11% from 220,000 to 247,000. Bachelor degree holders in the labor force (data not displayed in the above graphs) grew by 25% from 2003 to 2012, and those with some college or with an Associate’s degree grew by 8%. The above data does not suggest the state should hold back attempts to invest in education, but it does suggest that a lack of educated workers in the labor force is not necessarily the reason for the state’s tepid economic and job growth.