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A shared responsibility for educational attainment

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About a third of Louisville's residents currently have college degrees. By 2020, they hope to increase that ratio to half. That represents an increase of 55,000 degrees, and that's what Louisville has branded the public-private partnership that is leading the region's educational achievement initiative.
"Our overall strategy is to have a very clear report card to the community, and a data dashboard to the community, so we can all see the indicators of what we're doing," says Mary Gwen Wheeler, executive director of 55,000 Degrees
Part of Louisville's strategy has been to break down what 55,000 degrees really means. On a basic level, it means 40,000 bachelor's degrees and 15,000 associate's degrees. But digging deeper, Louisville is looking at what each sector contributes to the college attainment puzzle. Public schools have set specific goals for readiness, high school graduation rates, and college enrollment. Faith-based organizations and after-school programs are trying to increase attainment specifically within Louisville's African-American community. Local businesses have committed to help their employees return to school and finish their degrees. And everyone is tracking their results.
"Everyone is taking some responsibility," Wheeler says. 
To build partnerships between sectors, 55,000 Degrees and a public campaign called Count Me In! have hosted swap-and-shops, where groups can align and share ideas. An after-school reading program, for instance, can hear about reading interventions happening in school, and discuss ways to translate that strategy outside of the classroom.
It's early, but results are promising so far. College attainment rates are rising among African-American students at a faster rate than the general population, and college readiness, based on ACT scores, seems to be improving dramatically. 
Louisville hopes that increased educational attainment rates will spur economic development and make the region more competitive, not just regionally, not just nationally, but worldwide. 
"It's not good enough to benchmark with Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Dayton," Wheeler says. "We also have to benchmark with Bangalore, Singapore, Dublin -- it's a global market, and that adds urgency to our goal." 

Writer: Amy Elliott Bragg
Source: Mary Gwen Wheeler, 55,000 Degrees

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