Making St. Louis a Talent Hub with Accessible and Affordable Higher Education

by Greg Laposa | Feb 13, 2017

The future of St. Louis depends on its talent—the human capital that serves as the true engine of our region’s economic development.  We know there isn’t a greater accomplishment than improving our region’s prosperity by investing in people and making sure that they have the skills and economic opportunity to realize their best selves.

By 2025, nearly 60% of jobs in the United States will require a post-secondary degree.  St. Louis is lagging with only 40.9% of its adult population possessing an associate’s degree or higher.  Employers are competing for talent and people are seeking meaningful employment; however, the cost of post-secondary education is skyrocketing.

Many students in our region seeking greater economic opportunity understand the value of a college education and are willing to bear the burden of student loans. At the same time, the staggering weight of these loans is among the most cited reasons why students drop out of college. It is clear that the current generation of college students are pursuing an education at a great financial risk.  This is an ugly truth we need to face with resolve.

The reasons for high college costs are complex and multi-faceted. But there is an effort underway to improve higher education attainment and affordability in the region. A group of leaders from across our community came together last year to forge the St. Louis Regional Education Commitment, a document identifying clear paths to make St. Louis a top ten region for educational attainment by 2025.  This goal requires us to increase the number of people completing college degrees and choosing to live in the region by nearly 90,000 by 2025.  While ambitious, this goal is attainable. We cannot reach this goal if we do not tackle the issue of college affordability.

In the next few months, the Chamber will convene business and higher education leaders to address the increasing cost of a college education. The presidents and chancellors of 18 regional colleges and universities are also working to build on the St. Louis Regional Education Commitment’s foundation and engage civic and business leaders in their efforts.

This begins a series of blogs that will take an in-depth look into why college costs are rising, the existing efforts by higher education institutions and policy makers to curb these costs, and some solutions we can implement as a region.

The simple truth is addressing higher education will take resolve from our entire community. We are looking for partners and champions who can help us think through potential solutions.  I invite anyone who is reading this to connect with me directly at glaposa@stlregionalchamber.com  or @glaposa on Twitter if you have ideas, recommendations, or questions as work on making college more affordable and accessible for all.