If Talent Dividend: The Chattanooga Way can encourage growth in the number of post-secondary degree residents living in the region, the city could win up to $1 million, not counting the millions that would generate for households and, thus, the local economy.
"We all benefit from a higher educated citizenry," said John Schaerer, Talent Dividend liaison for Chattanooga. By increasing the number of post-secondary degrees in the area, more than $320 million can potentially be generated annually, he said.
He said higher education levels generally lead to a higher salary, more career advancements and an increased ability to focus on health and well-being.
The Lumina Foundation is offering a $1 million prize for the Talent Dividend chapter that is able to increase the number of people per capita who achieve post-secondary degrees by the end of 2013. Schaerer is helping organize a formal organization dedicated to this, which he said will be up and fully running by fall. The group will focus on six different populations: residents 18 and older with special needs, employed residents without a post-secondary degree, unemployed residents without a degree, new residents in the region, veterans and college students just out of high school.
"Right now, approximately half of the people that enter college do not complete their degree in six years at a four-year institution," Schaerer said. "Even within six years you are finding less than 50 percent that finish. That's an unacceptable dropout rate. There are over 55,000 people in Hamilton County and neighboring counties who have at least one year of college, but haven't completed a degree."
He said that more than 70 percent of positions nationwide and jobs in the future will require a post-secondary credential.
Chattanooga was one of the first cities to get on board with the Talent Dividend program. It began three years ago with only 17 cities participating, but now has more than 57 nationwide participants.
"A Talent Dividend is just like a monetary dividend; they are skills and competencies of the citizenry to make them more relevant to careers and occupations necessary for a vibrant economy," said Schaerer. "It's a regional focus, not just something for Chattanooga. This is independent of any educational institution. It's kind of consistent with cluster economics, where you put competitors together and that stimulates business for everybody."
As a special assistant to three chancellors at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, Schaerer was exposed to the Talent Dividend during a convention of the CEO for Cities program. The Talent Dividend coalition was born out of members of CEO for Cities who wanted to create vibrant cities and regions by increasing the number of residents who have post-secondary degrees.