You may have heard that there’s now a 40-40-20 goal for the state of Oregon. The Legislative Assembly declared that the mission of all education beyond high school in Oregon includes achievement of the following by 2025 [ORS 351.009]:

  • Ensure that at least 40 percent of adult Oregonians have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Ensure that at least 40 percent of adult Oregonians have earned an associate’s degree or post-secondary credential as their highest level of educational attainment.
  • Ensure that the remaining 20 percent or less of all adult Oregonians have earned a high school diploma, an extended or modified high school diploma or the equivalent of a high school diploma as their highest level of educational attainment.

According to the 2010-12 American Community Survey we’re at about 27-8-25 right now in Oregon. So clearly, we’ve got some work to do.


Nugget2The Nugget:

In order to attain 40-40-20 there are two groups of people we really need to pay attention to: adults with less than a high school education and adults with only some college, because they fall outside the Bachelor’s-Associate’s-high school group. Unfortunately for 40-40-20 goal attainment, there are a lot of Oregon adults, at different stages of the lifespan, who have less than high school education and who only have some college. So we have to figure out if we should encourage all of them to increase their levels of education and how we might go about doing that.


Evidence for the Nugget:

  1. There are a lot of adults who aren’t in the Bachelor’s-Associate’s-high school group of 40-40-20. Between 2010 and 2012, according to the American
    Community Survey (ACS),
    • 11% of Oregon adults age 18+ (about 338,000 people) had less than high school education and
    • 29% had some college (about 872,000 adults age 18+)
    • So a total of about 1.2 million Oregonians

That’s a lot of people to be outside the desired education groups! So chances are the only way we’ll be able to make a dent in this as a state is for all of us involved in education to work together. And as Extension, we definitely will because we interact with adults across the lifespan – and targeting adults, particularly those 45 and over, is going to be key to this.

  1. As the chart below shows, about 50% of people with less than high school and some college are people age 45+, and people age 65+ make up a significant proportion of the total. (Click on the chart image to open a new window where it displays larger)

  Age by Educ Percent 10-12

  1. As the chart below shows, just over 606,000 people age 45+ have less than high school or some college education, and in each education category we see that that there are significant numbers of adults in each age category. (Click on the chart image to open a new window where it displays larger)

Age by Educ Number 10-12


The Take-Away:

Sorry folks, but this time around I don’t have lots of neat take-aways for you – just lots of questions. This exploration into Oregon’s people, places, and society is a real head-scratcher for me. Maybe for you too?

  • How do we encourage adults between the ages of 25 and 64, who have less than high school or only some college education, to go back to school to get a GED or a post-secondary credential? Many of these folks are busy people – they work for pay outside the home, they work for no pay inside the home taking care of their children or other loved ones, they’ve got kids, and they’ve got established lives. Is increasing their level of education a priority to them? Should we encourage them to make it a priority? How?
  • If we decide we do want to encourage people across the working-age life span to go back to school, are there going to be different approaches needed to encourage them to do so? What will those look like?
  • Honestly, should we be striving to increase the educational attainment of adults age 65 and over? If so, how do we realistically encourage these older adults to go back to school and increase their level of education?
  • Maybe the only real take-away I can offer is that we’re going to have to put our heads together on this one to reach the 40-40-20 goal. It might be worth some really concentrated effort among us in Extension, precisely because we do interact with a lot of people across the adult lifespan. How can we, Extension faculty and staff, help achieve the 40-40-20 goal?
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4 thoughts on “If we want to achieve 40-40-20 we have to face some demographic realities.

  1. While I applaud the lofty 40-40-20 goal, it does not appear to be very achievable for Oregon. I am a huge advocate for education and for higher education in particular, but believe that the only way we can achieve this is by putting resources into bringing jobs for highly educated workers into the state. If we focus only on education, we will end up either educating students who then leave the state to find work or having huge numbers of people underemployed which not only leads to dissatisfaction and emigration, but makes the educational efforts unsustainable as students figure out it’s not worth putting in the time, effort, and money to get a degree, when the payback isn’t there. The biggest contribution to addressing 40-40-20, in my view, is to recruit companies that employ highly educated workers into the state. Initially, they will bring in out of state workers who already have degrees. This will cause an initial bump in the 40-40 numbers and the availability of jobs will incent homegrown students of working age to pursue additional education because they will see the payoff. Another idea would be to incent (via a tax credit, perhaps) companies to offer tuition reimbursement programs and flex time for working students to make getting additional education affordable and feasible for those already working. Companies benefit from programs like that too because they gain the immediate value of their worker’s education and often see lower turnover as a result of showing a commitment to their workers.

  2. I, too, am concerned about these extraordinarily ambitious goals – frankly, if my read of the current pertinent literature & statistics are correct, it is not only unachievable practically speaking, they aren’t even worthwhile goals from an economic standpoint – and may in fact be counter-productive. According to relatively current federal & state Bureau of Labor statistics & projections, neither state-wide or nation-wide is there any labor demand for this kind of goal, nor is there likely to be one – there simply is no good evidence to the contrary.

    The Incovenient Truth – does the Emperor wear clothes … ?

    We actually may have a lot to lose if we continue down this garden path. We stand to suffer a misallocation of funds – other things have a better chance of improving our economy or our lives – and in the worst-case, we increase the current malaise of out-of-work & underemployed grads with huge amounts of undischargeable debt burdens.

    Why? The 80[40+40]/20 goal seemingly is based on a ‘smoke & mirrors’ approach with no apparent data to support it. The Inconvenient Truth is that current projections from our own Oregon government, as well as the United States, match that of other successful economies around the world – more is not better – in this case more degrees are not only not better, but probably worse for our economy.

    Here are the facts:

    According to recent projections from the Oregon Employment Department Worksource (January 2012) these are the realistic educational requirements for actual jobs in Oregon thru 2020, or 7 years hence:

    3% advanced degree

    16 bachelors

    4 associate

    8 postsecondary training – for a total of 31% beyond high school – nothing even remotely approaching 40/40 or a total of 80%

    & leaving the rest – 69% on-the-job – and not necessarily with even a high school certificate (page 21 pie chart)

    and to be ‘competitive’ the projections are …

    9% advanced

    17 bachelors – for a total of 26% university – nothing even remotely approaching 40%

    9 associate

    19 postsecondary – for a total of 28% after high school but short of a bachelors degree, or 45% after high school but short of an advanced degree – again nothing even closely approaching 80%

    & on-the-job 46% (page 22 pie chart)

    National data are comparable – from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (rounded)

    ‘Two-thirds of the 30 occupations with the largest projected employment increase from 2012 to 2022 typically do -not- require postsecondary education for entry. (See table 5.)

    ‘Occupations that do -not- typically require postsecondary education are projected to add 8.8 million jobs between 2012 and 2022, accounting for more than half of all new jobs. These occupations employed nearly two-thirds of workers in 2012. (See table 7.)’

    From previous data that yields approximately –

    3% doctoral or professional

    1.5% masters

    16 bachelors

    6 associates

    5 postsecondary award

    1 some postsecondary

    43 high school

    & a whopping 26% – 1 quarter – less than high school (page 19 table 6)

    For the foreseeable future most jobs don’t require any kind of education beyond high school either here in Oregon or nationwide (69%). To be ‘competitive’ our own Employment Department projects the plurality will not need anything beyond high school (46%).

    Some college or other post-secondary (short of a bachelors) amounts to no more than 12% (‘required’) – 28% (‘competitive’). Similarly, only 16% bachelors & only 3% for advanced degrees (9% to be ‘competitive’). Assuming the most generous projections, no more than 9% would require an advanced degree, no more than 16% for a bachelors, for a total of 25% with a university degree. With 9% for associates & 19% for other postsecondary, that is a total of 28%. If we combine high school & below, that is leaves approximately 46% that don’t need anything beyond high school.

    This is comparable to other advanced economies – this is closer to the numbers for Germany, one of the strongest economies currently. Germany has had approximately 23% of its students attend college, with 13% attaining a degree. Various failing economies – e.g., Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain … had much higher ‘educational’ attainment – going to college or getting a degree doesn’t guarantee getting a job, or a decent economy.

    Hence, the Inconvenient Truth is that the continued push for 80/20 apparently is misguided at best, and disasterous at worst.

    • Thank you, Mark. These are exactly the types of issues that we should be considering related to this goal. Thank you for bringing these stats to the table.

      Just to play devil’s advocate, are there other benefits Oregonians may accrue by improving their educational attainment — aside from potential improvements to their employment prospects? Are there other benefits we as a state may accrue? These may be psychological, social, or civic in nature… Or is the association between education and health, civic engagement, crime/violence, etc. so dependent on the relationship education has to economic status that we shouldn’t expect improvements to the education of Oregonians to have a independent, positive ripple effect on other aspects of life in our state?

      Perhaps only if the over-educated decide to stay in Oregon without jobs that pay them accordingly…

      • I agree that there are other values besides jobs that further formal education may benefit – there just doesn’t seem to be really good conclusive evidence that such formal education actually causes any of these benefits globally – and certainly not exclusively, as opposed to being co-incident overall.

        As an example, many studies suggest that tertiary education doesn’t contribute to better civics – if anything, studies suggest that college graduates are less informed, not more, about civics basics, and the current trend is for less political engagement, not more.

        As an update with further data, apparently the experience in Mexico suggests tertiary education should be de-emphasized, and vocational training emphasized. The Mexican economy has more supply than demand for tertiary-educated – and more demand than supply for vocational training.

        ‘In Mexico, unemployment rates increase with greater education, according to a 2012 OECD study. College-educated Mexicans were more frequently unemployed than those with a primary or secondary education, which suggests that the labor market still overwhelming requires low-wage workers. Although Mexico is currently graduating more engineers than ever, that pattern has held steady for a decade.’

        ( cited in

        Accordingly, the OECD recommends –

        ‘Improve the equity and efficiency of education spending by refocusing such spending on pre-primary, primary and secondary education. Concentrate on improving the quality of teaching.

        ‘Mexico spends four times as much on university students (Scott, 2009), than on pre-primary, primary and secondary students (Figure 17). This is not only regressive, but also inefficient since returns to education are significantly higher at early pre-primary and primary levels, which therefore deserved increased focus (Heckman,2006).

        ‘For instance, to make upper secondary education more appealing to students, the transition from school to work should be a priority. One way to prepare students for the labour market is through vocational education and training (VET) and work-based programmes (OECD, 2010).’


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