Better higher education opportunities can improve advancement in the Valley

BY Bill Reagan

Educational attainment is the key to economic advancement.

A recent survey of 150 metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) by the Educational Policy Institute ranked the Brownsville-Harlingen MSA at 149th in the nation. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission came in last, at 150. Our two MSAs ranked lowest in percentage of adults aged 25 or older holding a high school diploma or an associate’s degree. We are in the bottom five in the percentage of adults 25 years of age or older with a bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree.

The study correlated university quality with educational achievement. This study ranks UTRGV in the middle for university quality.

The Valley MSAs rank 104th (Brownsville-Harlingen) and 118th (McAllen- Edinburg-Mission) in the survey’s “educational attainment gap.” Factors in this ranking include assessments of the quality of public schools and universities, the number of students enrolled in university per capita, and the gender and racial gaps in enrollment.

Opportunities for educational advancement in the Rio Grande Valley are not the best in the country, but they are not among the worst, either.

The challenge is to get the results to meet the opportunities. To get the results to match the opportunities we need to create a culture of education. The Rio Grande Valley needs to attract well educated people, and cultivate higher education among the people who already live here.

Developing UTRGV into a great university is a start. Museums and music venues will help. The RGV has a wonderful little enclave of great chess players. We have come to expect excellence in chess from our RGV kids. Let’s expect excellence in everything else. Higher educational achievement means higher income levels.

“In states where workers have the least schooling, for instance, the median wage is $15 an hour compared with $19 to $20 an hour in states where 40 percent or more of the working population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher,” according to the report.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.