In Alaska, we no longer want to be thought of as a place that doesn’t value early childhood education, or a place that has about the lowest college completion rate of all 50 states. We want far better than that.

As many readers of this blog know, there’s a major movement afoot to boost the high school graduation rate in Anchorage. The 90% by 2020 Partnership – spearheaded by United Way of Anchorage with myriad partners including Rasmuson Foundation – seeks to push our high school graduation rate to 90% by the year 2020.

90 x 20In 2013, the 90% by 2020 partnership earned United Way of Anchorage recognition for best practices in collective efforts to improve education outcomes. United Way of Anchorage was one just six local United Ways to be selected out of nearly 1,200 nationwide. The honor recognizes Anchorage’s cutting edge work in improving educational outcomes and how we’re getting there: a more sustainable, rigorous, and collaborative process to continuous improvement. The recognition is from a consortium of Target Corporation, United Way Worldwide and Strive, Inc., and comes with in-depth technical assistance and financial support.

The benefit to Anchorage is big. The partnership will receive technical assistance from the best minds in the country doing this type of work. And the group will be on a learning team with a small cohort of like-minded partnerships around the country.

For those who might not be steeped in the issue, 90% by 2020 is predicated on the vital role that an educated populace plays in the health, safety and quality of life of everyone who lives here. Everywhere you look, data support this conclusion. Here’s just one example: 61% of jail inmates in the U.S. lack a high school diploma. If our kids don’t value education and don’t succeed in school, we’ll have increased crime, lower incomes, and lots of taxpayer money spent on welfare and incarceration.

In Anchorage in 2006, the high school graduation rate hovered around 60%. With focused attention and action in and out of schools, the rate is now up to 76%. But to keep the momentum going, we have to look at the entire educational continuum.

Everything that happens, even from a very early age, affects everything else. Education doesn’t start in the classroom. It starts at birth, extends well beyond a high school diploma, and requires steady consistent progress every step of the way. Today in Anchorage, the early collaboration has evolved into the 90% by 2020 Partnership. Top leaders from all sectors (including our own board members Cathryn Rasmuson and Natasha von Imhof) have come to the table and pledged to work effectively together to take action, advocate for, and invest in collaborations that net better education outcomes.

The success of this work is critical to the success of our state. In Alaska, we no longer want to be thought of as a place that doesn’t value early childhood education, or a place that has about the lowest college completion rate of all 50 states. We want far better than that. We deserve far better.