From 2010 to 2020, the 55,000 Degrees partnership led efforts to help Louisville’s residents earn tens of thousands of postsecondary degrees. While 55,000 Degrees is no longer in operation, its mission lives on through a culture of learning through data and of collaborating across sectors. This page outlines the legacy of 55,000 Degrees and the continued journey to make Louisville a more-educated city so residents of all backgrounds have the opportunity to thrive.
LOUISVILLE WAS AT A CROSSROADS as city and county governments merged in 2003. With unity came a community consensus to take stock of our city’s strengths and our challenges. Whether the issue was attracting new jobs or improving quality of life for all residents, the top priority for the new city of Louisville to flourish became increasingly clear: Education.
More opportunities for individuals as lifetime earnings nearly double with a college degree. More opportunities for the city as it competes for 21st-century jobs and improves its quality of life.
The Greater Louisville Project, an organization that has benchmarked the city’s progress since merger, consistently listed education as the most important deep driver for positive change. And the community had united behind a number of education initiatives including improving reading and graduation rates.
To jumpstart a new level of community conversation, Mayor Jerry Abramson invited school superintendents, college and university presidents and civic leaders to a new Education Roundtable in late 2008.
To look at strategies to raise educational attainment and create transformational change. At the same time, Business Leaders for Education, organized by Greater Louisville Inc., called for the urgent need to respond to global competitiveness challenges. They brought in the Business Higher Education Forum in August 2009 to help with a retreat to focus on solutions. Goal teams headed by university leaders rolled up their sleeves and developed a plan.
And in May 2010, the members of the Roundtable signed the historic Greater Louisville Education Commitment with five key objectives:
Create and support a college-going culture
Use the business community’s unique points of leverage to accelerate attainment
Prepare students for success in college, career, citizenship and life
Make post-secondary education accessible and affordable
Increase educational persistence, performance and progress
In October 2010, a new public-private partnership called 55,000 Degrees took on this mission with the support of local foundations to launch Louisville into the top tier of our competitor cities with the bold goal of adding 40,000 bachelor’s degrees and 15,000 associate degrees by 2020.
Continuing the Work
As 55,000 Degrees closed out its 10-year initiative, its executive director and several key partners reflected on the impact of 55K and looked forward to what is needed to continue increasing affordable, equitable postsecondary education in Louisville. Their op-eds were published in the Courier Journal’s Forum section:
For each indicator, Greater Louisville Project assigns cities into one of three groups (high-performing, middle-of-the-pack, and low-performing) based on how they compare to other cities. The assignment is based on how cities naturally cluster on that indicator. Sometimes, the differences between cities are very small, and the difference between a city ranked 5th and 6th could simply be a matter of the sampling error that arises from using survey data. Thus, rather than always make a division that declares the top 5 to be the top tier, we use a natural breaks algorithm to look for a cluster of cities that is outperforming the rest, a cluster that is about average, and a cluster that is lagging. This clustering gives us a better indication of where Louisville is thriving and where Louisville has room to learn from cities that are doing better.
Z-scores (or standardization) is a way to combine data with different units of measurement into a single index. The z-score is a measure of how far away a city (or census tract, etc.) is from the average city. In order to be comparable across different units of measurement, the z-score is the distance from the mean measured in standard deviations (e.g. if Louisville has a z-score of 1 it means Louisville is 1 standard deviation above the mean of its peer cities).
Data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's County Health Rankings use z-scores and all z-scores are relative to the mean of Louisville's peer cities. (On the County Health Rankings site z-scores are relative to all the counties in each state - thus z-scores reported by GLP will be different, because we are using a different reference group). The Greater Louisville Project also uses z-scores in our multidimensional poverty index, which compares each census tract to the mean of all census tracts in Louisville.