There’s Real Economic Development Gold in El Dorado—Arkansas

By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais. October 19, 2013.

For centuries, explorers searched for the legendary golden city of El Dorado, seeking instant wealth in the jungles of South America. But today’s treasure trove may be found much closer to home; cities like El Dorado, Arkansas, for example, that have successfully linked their economic development strategy to improving the educational attainment of their residents.

El Dorado, a city of about 20,000 people that was at the heart of Arkansas’s oil boom in the 1920s has been hard pressed to reprise that economic growth experience in this century.  Instead of chasing after the fool’s gold of becoming cool, it has found a way to attract new residents and increase its economic vitality by promising its public school students a free college education if they graduate from high school with good grades. That promise has the potential to provide the critical glue in holding together a broad based economic recovery not just for cities such as El Dorado but for entire states or even the country.

The El Dorado Promise is a scholarship program established and funded by Murphy Oil Corporation, the town’s largest employer. Modeled after a similar program in Kalamazoo, MI, It provides graduates of the city’s high school a scholarship covering tuition and mandatory fees that can be used at any accredited two- or four-year, public or private, educational institution in the US up to an amount equal to the highest annual resident tuition at an Arkansas public university.

Since its inception in 2007, 1239 students have taken advantage of the offer. Over 90% of them have completed at least one year of college. The first high school class to enjoy this benefit has graduated after five years from college at a rate almost 40% greater than the state’s higher education student population. These gains in acquiring the skills necessary to be competitive in today’s global economy have been achieved by virtually all of the city’s high school students, over 90% of whom graduated from high school last year.

Furthermore the culture of a college-bound student population is now permeating throughout the school district, with a recent study finding that students in grades three through eight in the city scored significantly higher than their matched peers in nearby school districts in both math and literacy. The greatest gains have come from those who were the youngest when the Promise was announced.

The goal of the El Dorado Promise was not just greater educational attainment, however. The visionaries who established the program also wanted to use this program to improve the community’s economic vitality and quality of life. They have clearly done that.  Enrollment in the city’s schools was up 5% in just the first four years of the program’s existence. As the Promise website says, “the prospect of an increasingly educated workforce gives economic development leaders new tools to attract businesses to the region.”

The first such Promise was made in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2005 by still anonymous benefactors seeking to restore the reputation of a city made famous in 1942 by the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s hit tune about a “gal” who lived there. Rather than raise taxes to balance the city’s budget, those who established the Kalamazoo Promise offered a fully paid four-year scholarship to any public institution of higher education in Michigan to any student who went to the city’s high schools for all four years. Under the terms of the Kalamazoo Promise, students have no obligation to repay the money or even to reside in Kalamazoo after they graduate from college.

The results are very similar to those of El Dorado. Kalamazoo’s student population is up 17.6% and dropout rates have been cut in half. Ninety percent of the city’s female African-American high school graduates have gone on to college. On the economic front, the proportion of residential construction in the city rose sharply from around 30% to nearly 50% of all permits issued in the greater Kalamazoo area. The community’s careful tracking of the results has identified 1600 families who say they are living in the city because of the Promise.

The economic challenges that caused El Dorado and Kalamazoo to up their game in getting local residents to graduate from high school and go on to college are no different than the challenge facing the country as a whole  in trying to create a competitive workforce in today’s increasingly global and technology driven economy.  For example, the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that 62% of the jobs in the United States by the year 2018 will require at least some college education – for example a certificate for a specific skill – and that more than half of those jobs will require a bachelor’s degree. Unless the nation wants to fill those jobs with immigrants from other countries, it will have to do a much better job of giving each American who graduates from high school a chance to pursue a two year skill certificate or a baccalaureate degree. 

A promise that rewards good academic performance in high school with a scholarship that pays for four years of college tuition has demonstrated it can make a major difference in achieving our educational and economic goals. Now it’s time for the rest of the country to find the gold that Kalamazoo and El Dorado have already discovered. Just as the country, as part of its overall economic development strategy, once expanded access to a universal free education first for primary schools and later for high schools, it must now find ways to make these two pioneering cities’ promise to their young people America’s Promise to all of its youth.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of the newly published Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America and Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics and fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute.


Walker Awakens a Sleeping Giant

The use of a legislative maneuver last night by Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate to advance Governor Scott Walker's efforts to strip state employees of their collective bargaining rights may have caught Democrats by surprise, but the ultimate result of the actions of Walker and his GOP allies may have been to awaken a sleeping giant.

For the first time in decades, driven by the emergence of the Millennial Generation, the nation's youngest politically active generation (born 1982-2003), the public is as positive about labor unions as it is about business corporations. Pew research findings show that, in the private sector, Millennials side with unions over business in disputes by 51% to 37% and, in the public sector, favor unions over government by a 56% to 32%. These attitudes are reflected in recent surveys showing that both within Wisconsin and across the nation Americans favor the public employee unions in their dispute with the governor. In fact, largely due to defections from Republican union members, one recent survey suggested that Walker would lose a reelection vote to his 2010 Democratic opponent if a new election were to be held today.

In a recent Pew survey, nearly equal numbers of Americans were favorable toward labor (45%) and business (47%). This is in sharp contrast to the Reagan-Gingrich era of the 1980s and 1990s when the public was more positive about business than about labor by margins of around 15 percentage points. The Millennial Generation accounts for almost all of the narrowing of this gap. Millennials are positive about labor unions by a 2:1 margin (58% favorable to 29% unfavorable). The young cohort is far less positive about business corporations (49% favorable to 43% unfavorable). Although in the wake of the Great Recession, older generations are less positive toward business than they were a decade or two ago, they are still narrowly more favorable toward corporations (46% each favorable and unfavorable) than toward labor (42% favorable to 44% unfavorable).

The Millennials' endorsement of labor unions does not simply stem from a supposed tendency of young people to always support the underdog or liberal causes. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, youthful members of the individualistic and entrepreneurial Generation X (born 1965-1981), and a key Ronald Reagan support group, usually tilted toward management in its disputes with labor. Rather, the Millennial Generation has positive impressions of labor unions because it is what generational theorists have labeled a "civic generation." Civic generations, like the Millennials and the GI or Greatest Generation are characterized by their group-orientation, their tendency to build, reform, and utilize societal institutions, and their belief in cooperative approaches to accomplish their own and the nation's goals.

At around 95 million, the Millennial Generation is the largest in U.S. history, but its full force has yet to be felt. In 2008, when Millennials preferred Barack Obama over John McCain by a 66% to 32% margin and accounted for 80% of the president's popular vote margin, they comprised less than one fifth (17%) of the electorate. In 2012, when Obama runs for reelection, Millennials will account for about a quarter (24%) of those eligible to vote. In 2020, when the youngest Millennials reach voting age the generation will comprise more than a third (36%) of American adults.

As we point out in our upcoming book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America, with numbers like these the emerging generation is about to reshape all aspects of national life, including the relative positions of labor and management in the U.S. economy and American politics. The last time a civic generation so thoroughly dominated American society, as the Millennials are about to, was in the 1930s when the GI Generation, whose numbers were equal to those of the two preceding generations combined, spearheaded labor's drive to organize the nation's industrial workforce. They were so successful that more than a third of all American workers were union members by the mid-1950s. In the decades after it fought and defeated the Axis in World War II, the GI Generation assumed positions of power and thoroughly shaped the nation's institutions, just as Millennials will do in the years to come.

In the Millennial era that lays ahead, public opinion and governmental policy will be more sympathetic to labor than they have been at any time since the GI Generation ran things. Given the preference of many Millennials for public and governmental service, public employee unions should find fertile ground for organizing and for maintaining public support for a level playing field between workers and employers. That is why Governor Walker's battle in Wisconsin and similar efforts in other states over the ability of workers to organize are likely, in the end, to fail and why the decades ahead are likely to be better for organized labor than the previous few decades have been.

- Cross posted from The Huffington Post

Democrats Still Most Likely to Succeed Among Millennials

The "Millennial Generation" of young voters (read: my generation), along with other members of what Simon often refers to as the "New Coalition," played a critical role in delivering the 2006 and 2009 Elections to Democrats.  But according to Pew Research - which has been doing some really exciting work on Millennials- Democrats' edge may be slipping.  From Pew:

"The Democratic advantage over the Republicans in party affiliation among young voters, including those who 'lean' to a party, reached a whopping 62% to 30% margin in 2008. But by the end of 2009 this 32-point margin had shrunk to just 14 points: 54% Democrat, 40% Republican."

Let it be said that 15% remains a sizable differential, and that in 2008 most Americans were at the height of their Republican discontent so there was probably nowhere to go but down.  Further, Millennials' core political values continue to be significantly more progressive than any generation before ours, so Democrats' baseline advantage (the "value synchronicity" advantage if you will) is durable, even in light of this recent slip.  With Millennial voters, Democrats may be losing their hold on Most Popular, but all the data indicates that they remain the clear favorite for Most Likely to Succeed.

Enjoyed the Event in SF Last Night

We had a good turnout last night in SF for the reception for Morley and Mike.  Thanks to all those who came by, and for those coming to the NDN blog for the first time - welcome.  Come back for more.

Millennials, Suit Up

Since the snowy surprises of Iowa and New Hampshire - in which a tripling and doubling of youth voter turnout, respectively, turned many heads - the press has done an awkward dance with the youth vote, struggling to pick a narrative that adheres to the conventional wisdom of youth-as-disengaged or alternative of the "Millennial Makeover," as NDN friends Morley Winograd and Michael Hais call it. As coverage has moved to emphasizing the roles of Latinos and economically-hurting voters, excitement about the youth vote has waned a bit. I was reminded this weekend, however, by some great press coverage that hit close to home - literally.

First, Friday's numbers from Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in my home state of Connecticut confirmed NDN's argument that the Millennial Generation will be a remarkable boon for progressives going forward. While the youth vote was "decisive" in the Connecticut primary and reflected a surge of interest in that competitive race, the excitement has continued well beyond February. Since May, the number of newly registered voters nearly matches the increase before the primary - and among 18-29-year-olds there have been 4.3 Democrats for every one Republican.

As will be emblemized elsewhere across the country, the amplified youth turnout could be especially important in Connecticut's toss-up Fourth District race between New England's lone Republican, U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, and his Democratic challenger Jim Himes. Shays won close races to Diane Farrell in 2004 and 2006 but new registrations fueled by young people more than double the margin by which Farrell lost in 2006 and reflect the impact of Obama, the most Millennial-friendly candidate in to date, is already having at the top of the ticket. Further, Himes is an internationally-raised Spanish speaker who left his VP spot at Goldman-Sachs to work as a non-profit exec in affordable housing - a not-quite-Millennial who speaks the civic notes that appeal to the internationally-focused and civically-minded Millennial Generation (see Melissa's recent blog post). Himes's campaign manager, Maura Kearney, entered politics during the new media explosion of the Lamont campaign. The Himes people, it seems, get it.

So what does Republican State Chairman Chris Healy have to say about the new voters and potential for swinging the Fourth?

Healy said that new voter registrations do not always lead to voter turnout.

"Just because you suit up, it doesn't mean you'll show up," he said.

I know that I, and many of my peers from all over, are suited up and ready to play hardball this fall. As EJ Dionne argued in Friday's Washington Post, the conventional wisdom on the youth vote has lagged behind 2008's remarkable evidence to the contrary. Dionne predicts this will be "the year the youth vote arrives" and believes that the youth vote can "make a difference in Barack Obama's favor." I argue that the youth vote will make a difference for more than just Obama this November; expect it will impact nail-biter down-ticket races like CT-04 as well.

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