Yesterday I was sitting in an Indianapolis conference room with folks from nearly 20 of my favorite cities from around the country. And we were discussing one of my favorite topics – why cities need to bet on education as economic development.

San Antonio has made that bet, and though we have a major hill to climb, that commitment is the first step toward getting it right.  Our community has already set a bold goal to increase college attainment: We’ve said we want 50 percent of our adults to hold a college degree by 2020. And we’re tracking our progress annually and reporting it publicly.

This is important for many reasons, all of which underlie the foundation of SA2020’s work: connecting the community to make San Antonio stronger.

We have to make the connections between our goals for the economy with those for education and poverty. We, as a community, have to realize that, by 2018, 68% of jobs nationwide will require some form of higher education. This means adult educational attainment is important, clearly, but we also have to realize that 22% of children in poverty will not graduate from high school.

San Antonio knows of no single program to tackle this challenge alone, and these issues are too complex to solve in a silo. The good news is, we are knee deep into collaboration, and we’re seeing the needle move.

Prison Dropout

In 2012, we saw an average rate for high school graduation at 92%, so we’re working on setting an even bolder goal. San Antonio’s college completion rates have steadily risen each year, and every 1 percent increase in our rate of 4-year degree holders translates into a $1.5 billion impact for our economy (CEOs for Cities). We know we’re heading in the right direction, because our citywide 4-year attainment rate has grown incrementally but steadily going back to 2007.

We are two years into Diplomás, a collaboration bringing together 14 partners to raise Latino college completion rates. It is encouraging news that San Antonio’s Latino college graduation rate outpaces the nation’s, but Latino college graduation rates still lag far behind what they should be.

But because of efforts like Diplomás, supported by Lumina Foundation and bringing together Harlandale, Northside, San Antonio and Southwest school districts, Alamo Colleges and UTSA, the San Antonio and Hispanic chambers, Region 20, P16Plus Council, SA2020, Advise Texas and the coordinating organization, the San Antonio Education Partnership, I expect those college graduation rates to continue to climb.

College Economy

At SA2020, our partners in key cause areas – Education (P16Plus Council), Economic Competitiveness (San Antonio Economic Development Foundation & Alamo Colleges) and Family Well Being (United Way) – are doing exciting work, and we saw a chance to bring in some new partners, like industry leaders, the city and county economic development departments, and Workforce Solutions Alamo. This will help us more fully knit promising educational efforts to workforce needs.

This week, SA2020 received a grant from the Lumina Foundation to do just that. Many other cities also selected, like San Antonio, are attracting Millennials and tech companies and repositioning themselves as cities where you can be a part of the change. It’s an exciting moment for San Antonio, as we seek to capitalize on our momentum in improved student outcome and solid job growth through the power of many oars rowing in the same direction.

We are a city on the rise. Don’t doubt that for a second.

Jeanne Russell is Chief of Strategy at SA2020. Jeanne received her bachelor’s in anthropology from UC Berkeley and her master’s in education from UC Davis. She later received a joint master’s in journalism and Latin American studies from New York University. She spent several years as a teacher in New York City, Tokyo and Guatemala City. She began her journalism career along the U.S. Mexico border and spent 10 years at the San Antonio Express-News as a reporter and editor. She served as communications director and education advisor to Mayor Phil Hardberger, and Education Policy Advisor to Mayor Julián Castro. She and her husband live in Southtown where her two children are enrolled in Bonham Academy’s dual language program. Her SA2020 passion is education. 

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Jeanne Russell

Jeanne Russell is the owner and co-founder of Mission Street Consulting, LLC. In that capacity, she helped design and launch Upgrade, and now sits on its advisory board. Prior to forming Mission Street...