College Graduation: The 60 Percent Target

Some 17 U.S. states have come together in an effort to increase college graduation rates. According to an Associated Press article in the New York Times:

Led by Stan Jones, Indiana’s former commissioner for higher education, the nonprofit group, Complete College America, has raised $12 million in startup money from several nonprofit groups. Mr. Jones said the group hoped to ensure that 60 percent of adults between 25 and 35 hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree by 2020.

Complete College America was officially launched yesterday, on March 2, 2010, “as a new organization dedicated to helping states implement the bold reforms necessary to bring about dramatic increases in the numbers of young adults with college degrees and other credentials of value.” Currently about 38 percent of adults between 25 and 35 have earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The organization is supported with generous grants from several American foundations.

Merely joining an alliance of states, however, does not ensure that states will actually take actions that will result in an increase in college completion. According to Complete College America, the 17 states in the alliance have committed to three things:

Setting state and campus-specific degree and credential completion goals;

Developing and implementing aggressive state and campus-level action plans for meeting the state’s completion goals; and

Collecting and publicly reporting common measures of progress toward completion goals and closing attainment gaps.

The agreement isn’t binding, however, and doesn’t require states to actually provide more support for higher education or create better funding structures to get more kids to college.

Some 75 percent of American undergraduates are enrolled in public colleges or universities. But over time states have been providing less and less support for public colleges.

Considering that most students who drop out of college do so because college simply because college costs too much, “aggressive state and campus-level action plans,” might not be the most effective way to improve college completion rates.

The states in the Complete College America alliance are Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and, rather oddly, Nevada.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer