Charleston region selected to compete to increase college degree earners, win $1 million

Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce
May 11, 2011

Through the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, Charleston has been officially entered as one of the 50 U.S. cities to compete to increase the number of residents with a college degree and win $1 million. The Talent Dividend Prize will be awarded by CEOs for Cities to the metropolitan area that exhibits the greatest increase in the number of post-secondary degrees granted per capita over a three-year period.

The competition is designed as an effort to increase college attainment in our nation’s cities by one percentage point, which CEOs for Cities calculates would be worth $124 billion a year in increased national earnings. The winner will be announced in September 2014.

The Talent Dividend Prize competition comes on the heels of the Department of Education’s successful “Race to the Top” initiative that encouraged states to improve outcomes among K-12 students. In addition to boosting educational attainment, the Talent Dividend competition aims to boost economic gains at both the local and national level.

The Charleston Metro Chamber is collaborating with several regional organizations, including The Education Foundation, Trident United Way, Charleston Regional Development Alliance and the S.C. Commission on Higher Education to vastly improve educational results at all levels.

From the Graduate Charleston initiative, a higher education pilot program, to changing attitudes surrounding education and connecting how education and future career success are connected, the aim is to aggressively enhance education in order to grow the region’s economy and develop a quality workforce that meets tomorrow’s business needs.

“We are still in the planning stages of this project but everyone we have talked with is excited about the potential success. We are patterning our effort around a program we learned about last year in Kingsport Tennessee. The Kingsport plan increased high school graduation rates by more than 20 percent over a ten year period,” said Ron Jones, Chairman Elect for the Chamber. “We don’t view this as a Chamber project but rather a regional effort that will engage many organizations working together towards a common goal for our community,” said Jones.

CEOs for Cities’ research shows that increasing the four-year college attainment rate in each of the 51 largest metropolitan areas by one percentage point, from its current median of 29.4 percent to 30.4 percent, would be associated with an increase in aggregate personal income of $124 billion per year for the nation. This improvement in income would be the result of increased productivity: better-educated workers are more productive, and having access to a better-educated workforce makes businesses more productive.

The $1 million prize can be used by the winning city to launch a national promotional campaign centered on talent development. In order to be eligible for the competition, cities had to register by May 2 and be either the largest metropolitan area in the state, or have a population of 500,000 based on 2009 Census data. The Talent Dividend Prize is supported by The Kresge Foundation and Lumina Foundation for Education.

“The Talent Dividend competition aligns perfectly with the Big Goal to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “With more than 50 cities working toward the prize, we’re encouraged that so many urban leaders understand the great economic impact educational attainment can have on our cities and country.”

Competing cities include: Akron, Ohio; Albany, N.Y.; Baltimore, Md.; Baton Rouge, La.; Boston, Mass.; Bradenton, Fla.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Chicago, Ill.; Cleveland, Ohio; Columbia, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Dayton, Ohio; Denver, Colo.; Detroit, Mich.; El Paso, Texas; Fargo, N.D.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Hartford, Conn.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Houston, Texas; Indianapolis, Ind.; Jackson, Miss.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Lakeland, Fla.; Little Rock, Ark.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Louisville, Ky.; Madison, Wis.; Manchester, N.H.; McAllen, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Nashville, Tenn.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Omaha, Neb.; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; Providence, R.I.; Raleigh, N.C.; Richmond, Va.; Rochester, N.Y.; San Diego, Calif.; St. Louis, Mo.; Stockton, Calif.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Tampa, Fla.; Tulsa, Okla.; Washington, D.C.; Wichita, Kan.; Youngstown, Ohio.

As an added incentive to competing cities, The Kresge Foundation announced that it will also award up to $570,000 in $10,000 “challenge grants” to cities that are able to secure an additional $10,000 from donors to further support local college achievement. Challenge grant funds can be used by cities to:
• Further develop their college achievement plan to increase the number of local college graduates
• Raise awareness of the value of improving college achievement
• Convene partners to improve local college achievement

For more information on the Talent Dividend Prize, visit

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