by Dr. Douglas Scarboro
I’ve been able to manage and lead most big projects by monitoring a small set of data. When I worked for the city of Memphis, one statistic from Joe Cortright with Portland, Oregon-based City Observatory, resonated with me as I worked to increase the level of talent in Memphis: 58 percent of a city’s success can be determined by its percentage of college graduates. I recently had a strong case of déja vu when hosting a group of Memphis-area teachers and educators gathered here at the St. Louis Fed’s Memphis Branch to participate in a live town hall webcast with Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen.
Yellen spoke to teachers gathered at Federal Reserve regional banks and branches across the country from the Federal Reserve Board’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. She discussed the mission and responsibilities of the Federal Reserve System, and then took questions from K-12 and post-secondary educators of economics, history, and related disciplines. This town hall followed a speech she gave at the University of Baltimore’s 2016 mid-year commencement in December, where she said, “Economists are not certain about many things. But we are quite certain that a college diploma or an advanced degree is a key to economic success. Those with a college degree are more likely to find a job, keep a job, have higher job satisfaction, and earn a higher salary.”
The value of investment in higher education remains true nationwide, and ensuring that all Memphians have this opportunity has been a passionate focus of several organizations in Memphis. Leadership Memphis launched the Memphis Talent Dividend (MTD), a collaborative of more than 100 stakeholders from an eight-county region who are working together to increase the percentage of college attainment in the area by 1 percent. If this goal is met, the CEOs for Cities organization estimates a $1 billion economic impact for the region. Leadership Memphis and MTD also support Graduate Memphis, a free college resource center designed to increase postsecondary attainment among adults. In addition, when I was executive director of former Mayor A C Wharton’s Office of Talent and Human Capital Engagement, we ensured Memphis was one of the Lumina Foundation’s first groups of partner cities to participate in the Foundation’s Goal 2025, which supported the efforts of Seeding Success and the Community Partnership for Attainment (CPA) Collaborative Action Network to increase post-secondary attainment in Shelby County to 55 percent by 2025. Through these and other efforts, Memphis and Shelby County are well on their way, with 30 percent of adults in Shelby County who are 25 years and older now having bachelor’s degrees or higher.
In Yellen’s December speech, she also noted that beyond the numerical advantages, “research also shows that a college or graduate degree typically leads to a happier, healthier, and longer life.”
This town hall and Yellen’s speeches reflect how important the role of education is to the Federal Reserve, and why we are continually working to expand financial and economic educational opportunities for students of all ages. Why? While financial literacy and good financial decision-making are essential to the prosperity and financial security of individuals, they are also essential to the growth and efficiency of our overall economy. The Federal Reserve’s mission to conduct monetary policy and maintain a stable financial system also depends upon the participation and support of an educated and engaged public.
Several years ago, the St. Louis Fed made a commitment to improving economic literacy throughout our District and we now have a wide range of award-winning resources for people of all ages and educational backgrounds. These resources, available on our “Econ Lowdown” site, include award-winning online courses, videos, podcasts, lessons, whiteboard activities, websites, and publications that appeal to students, teachers, parents, and general consumers.
We in the Memphis region, whether in our educational leadership roles with the Federal Reserve, or in our roles with local philanthropic, civic, and government agencies, need to remain committed to providing our young people with the resources and support to allow them a chance at achieving the opportunities for happier, healthier, and longer lifetimes through successful post-secondary attainments.
Dr. Douglas Scarboro is regional executive/senior vice president of the Memphis branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
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