A business group seeking to increase the number of college- and career-ready Mainers unveiled its first report on the state of education in Maine, and urged a “cradle-to-career” commitment from the business, education and political communities.

“I think it takes collective action,” said Michael Dubyak, chairman of Educate Maine and chief executive officer of WEX Inc. “For Maine’s future, we must have a better-educated workforce.”

Educate Maine’s “Education Indicators Report” uses 10 indicators ranging from pre-kindergarten participation rates to college graduation figures to quantify where the state’s students stand.

Several speakers at the Educate Maine event, held at Portland’s Casco Bay High School, said the indicators represent an education “pipeline” that can lead to a successful college- or career-ready graduate. But it needs to work in all places, not just in spots, or students spill out and never attain post-secondary degrees.

The report collected existing statistics from a variety of sources on the number of Maine students enrolled in public pre-K programs, availability of full-day kindergarten, reading and math proficiency in fourth and eighth grades, graduation rates, number of students going to college, college completion rates, student cost and debt, and the number of Mainers with post-secondary degrees or credentials.

The state Department of Education uses some of those K-12 indicators — such as test scores and graduation rates — to produce its own new A-F report card on the state’s schools.

TRAILING OTHER STATES IN SOME AREAS

Educate Maine Executive Director Tanna Clews said the group’s report goes beyond the state’s ranking by encompassing data on early childhood education and post-secondary outcomes, and compares Maine results to other New England states and foreign countries.

Among the indicators the report included was Maine’s high school graduation rate, which was 85 percent in 2012, the same as the other New England states.

Maine’s fourth-graders had reading proficiency rates of 32 percent, compared with 41 percent for all of New England. In math, Maine fourth-graders had 45 percent proficiency compared with 51 percent for all of New England.

While Maine’s college tuition rates are the lowest in New England, Maine residents pay more per-capita income in tuition than the rest of New England. The net cost of four years of higher education in Maine is 34 percent of per-capita income, compared with 29 percent for New England.

About 43 percent of Maine’s 3- and 4-year-olds are in pre-K, compared with 56 percent for New England, although those figures date to 2006.

For each indicator, Educate Maine urges improvement, but the study does not give specific recommendations for how to achieve that goal.

When asked just how Educate Maine, a business-led education advocacy group, would improve education, Dubyak said the group was working within the system by partnering and collaborating with educators at both the K-12 level and higher education, before putting political pressure on legislators and politicians in Augusta.

Dubyak said he has met with Gov. Paul LePage about Educate Maine’s work, “but I haven’t asked for any money yet.”

“We need to get things in place,” he said. “But in time we’ll be reaching out” to the governor and legislators.

goals, partnerships aid effort

Educate Maine has a stated goal that by 2023, at least 50 percent of the Maine workforce would hold a post-secondary degree or credential. Currently, 37 percent of Mainers 25 years and older have post-secondary degrees, according to U.S. Census data.

Other speakers at the Educate Maine event said they were committed to improving education, and they welcomed Educate Maine’s support and partnership. Just articulating a goal, and setting up specific benchmarks to track progress, are a good start, they said.

“Without targets, without goals, it’s really hard to see where we’re going,” said Duke Albanese, a former Maine education commissioner and now a senior policy adviser for the Great Schools Partnership. “This is going to set a good direction and offer a helping hand to our schools.”

Although Dubyak and other Educate Maine business leaders want more workers with post-secondary degrees, a Portland Press Herald analysis of state Department of Labor data earlier this year found that 70 percent of jobs expected to see the highest growth in actual new job openings through the year 2020 only require a high school diploma.

Only three of the top 25 jobs require at least an associate degree: accountants, physicians and registered nurses, according to the Maine Jobs 2020 report, a comprehensive survey released every two years that analyzes more than 600 job categories in the state.

EMPHASIZE EACH STEP OF PROCESS

Kittery Superintendent Allyn Hutton said she welcomed the structure of the Educate Maine proposition, instead of shifting priorities and changing benchmarks.

“Give us the targets, give us the supports and we will make it happen,” Hutton said. “We must have the political and business support.”

Southern Maine Community College President Ron Cantor said students fall out of the “pipeline” too easily. He noted that even though Maine has an 85 percent high school graduation rate, nearly half of graduates are not proficient in basic math and English.

“They can enroll in college, but they can’t do the work,” Cantor said. “Their pipeline never reaches career success.”

Susan Hunter, with the University of Maine System, emphasized that pressure needs to be applied at every step of the education process, from early learning to supports for adult learners in college.

Educate Maine plans to release an annual report on the indicators.

“This requires coordinated action. There is no silver bullet solution,” said Hunter, vice chancellor for academic affairs in the seven-university system.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:ngallagher@pressherald.com