Report: More School Improves Regions’ Economic Performance

Researchers at the highly regarded Milken Institute say their new report shows a strong connection betwene educational attainment and a region's economic performance.

Called “A Matter of Degrees: The Effect of Educational Attainment on Regional Economic Prosperity,” researchers Ross DeVol, I-Ling Shen, Armen Bedroussian and Nan Zhang determined more education provides a benefit to the individual who completes more school, but it also helps the community as a whole.

Among the researchers major findings was that adding one more year of schooling to the average resident of a region increases the real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in that region by 10.5 percent and the wages per worker by 8.4 percent.

The full report is available at the website of the Milken Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif.

The Milken researchers recommend regions take steps to make education more affordable and to improve access to higher education. Increasing the number of people living in a region who have college degrees is also important, they concluded.

The Northwest Arkansas Council and its partners are addressing much of what the Milken researchers believe can improve regions. Many of the objectives being pursued in Northwest Arkansas by the Council were recommendations made in the Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy, a blueprint for economic success with goals focused on improvement education, infrastructure, community vitality and economic opportunities.

Educational improvements are a major component of the strategy.

In 2011, the University of Arkansas, Walton Family Foundation and the Council announced a Career Coaches program in high schools throughout Benton and Washington counties. Now called the Razor C.O.A.C.H. program, it allows 15 career coaches to work with at-risk high school students, encouraging the students to attend college after high school graduation.

In 2012, the Council worked with five Northwest Arkansas colleges and universities to establish Graduate NWA, a program to encourage people with some college credit to complete their education. More than 22 percent of Northwest Arkansas residents who are age 25 or older have some college credit, but they don't have a degree.

In 2011 and 2012, the Council worked with the region’s high schools on a program to encourage high school students to stay in school. Called Reach Out NWA, the program identifies students who don’t return to high schools each fall and leads to teachers, counselors and school administrators meeting with those students individually to determine the best way to help the former students finish high school.