The Rio Grande Valley region, made up of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties, is experiencing a growing economy that continues to shift from one of agriculture and tourism to one with new opportunities in education, health services, retail, advanced manufacturing and the service industry. In 2015, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley was created to include a new medical school as the first professional school in the region. The Rio Grande Valley’s population is young and Latino with a median age of 30, compared to 34 for the state. This creates a strong competitive advantage in recruiting new companies into the region.
Collaboration among various sectors in the Rio Grande Valley is making a difference with the younger population. Over the last decade, this collaboration has translated to a shift in educational attainment for 18- to 24-year-olds in the region, with recent data showing that the number of people in this age group who did not graduate high school decreased from 24 percent in 2014 to 23 percent in 2015. However, there is still work to be done to move students in and through college. Higher education graduation rates dropped from 49 percent in 2014 to 42 percent in 2015 for public four-year institutions, and have been flat at 16 percent since 2013 for public two-year institutions.
This is important work, because research shows that college degrees matter. A Pew Research study indicates that college-educated millennials outperform their less educated peers, earn more money, are more satisfied with their jobs and have lower unemployment and poverty rates. Therefore, RGV FOCUS leaders are committed to making sure that all students in the region graduate from high school and pursue postsecondary credentials.
Although making progress in the last two decades, the RGV continues to trail the state and nation in educational attainment. It is through its commitment to collaborate across sectors that the RGV has begun to close the gap in the percentage of adults over 25 and older with associate degrees, as can be seen in the following chart. The increase in educational attainment is attributed to the work of our two community colleges, one technical college and two universities. That being said, we have much work to do in the RGV.