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Higher ed called key for spreading success

A higher-education expert kicked off the sixth annual Our Kids: Our Business campaign Friday with this observation: “You have never been more likely to die poor in this country if you were born poor than right now.”

Mark Milliron, the event speaker, said one way to reverse that trend is to make postsecondary education available to more people.

Those traditionally known as “college students” – 18- to 22-year-olds who live on campus – are in fact a minority of students, Milliron said. Many students are older, have families, live off-campus and work full time while going to school.

Income, not surprisingly, often dictates the educational experience.

Only 12 percent of people in the bottom two income quartiles are expected to finish their credential, Milliron said, compared with 65 percent to 85 percent of upper-income students.

Milliron brought a similar message to Spokane in September as the keynote speaker at Greater Spokane Incorporated’s annual meeting. He was invited back to speak to the Our Kids: Our Business audience at Gonzaga University’s Martin Centre because of the popularity of his earlier talk, Amy Knapton, chairwoman of Our Kids: Our Business, said recently.

At the time he spoke to Greater Spokane Incorporated, Milliron was deputy director for postsecondary improvement at the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Currently Milliron is chancellor of WGU Texas, part of a group of nonprofit, online universities.

Milliron focused much of his talk on the promise of technology to help more students achieve postsecondary success.

A college’s infrastructure should be buildings and technology, and its instruction a combination of online and face-to-face learning, he said, a concept that he calls the “big blend.”

Consider how dependent many Americans are on their smartphones, he said: “There’s a digital infrastructure for how you live, play and work,” and that model will increasingly move to learning.

“Our educational ecosystem is not keeping up” with demand or with global competition, Milliron said. Yet “more and more jobs require postsecondary credentials.”

He concluded, “education is a powerful pathway to possibility.”