Connecting the dots between the economy and education

Savvy business owners and managers recognize connections.

They know best the crucial links between the products and services they provide and the customers who purchase them. But business owners and managers also see the relationships between economic and demographic trends.

Stories in this very issue highlight the important association between the economy and education in the Grand Valley.

One story details an economic checkup of sorts and the prognosis from a bank economist. According to that prognosis, Grand Junction likely will lag behind other areas of Colorado in what’s forecast as a recovery that ultimately will make the state a regional economic leader. There are a number of reasons, including high unemployment levels and downturns in the retail and housing markets.

One problem is that residents in Grand Junction and other smaller cities in Colorado tend to have lower educational levels than those in other areas. In Grand Junction, the proportion of adults age 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher — a group considered “highly educated” — was 23.4 percent in 2008. That’s lower than the same proportion for Boulder, Fort Collins and Denver as well as the state as a whole.

The unemployment rate tends to run lower for those with college degrees than those without degrees. In addition, college graduates typically earn substantially more money over the course of their careers.

College education isn’t the single answer to economic problems, of course. But it’s equally evident a better educated work force attracts the kinds of businesses that create high-paying jobs.

The good news for the Grand Valley can be found in stories focusing on education. Those stories detail the efforts of Mesa County School District 51 to prepare students for college and work as well as the efforts of Mesa State College to offer programs that meet the changing demands of industry.

While the proportion of Grand Valley residents with college degrees might lag behind other Colorado cities for now, there’s encouraging news in the fact enrollment at Mesa State has increased 25 percent over the past five years. Anyone who’s driven past Mesa State can see why in the building boom that has transformed the campus. But the college also has added to its academic offerings and next year will launch master’s and doctoral nursing degree programs designed to meet the needs of the health care industry.

It’s not too difficult to connect the dots between the economy and education. Fortunately, trends in education ultimately will bode well for trends in the economy.