The federal government will now offer incentives to encourage colleges to improve their graduation rates.

According to a press release today by the Department of Education:

To help governors develop college completion plans, the Administration is releasing a calculation of each state’s share of the President’s 2020 goal as well as a comprehensive college completion tool kit of suggested policies to help governors boost college graduation rates. The toolkit identifies seven no-cost or low-cost strategies that governors can use, fifteen related action steps, and a series of existing federal resource streams from which to draw.

The strategies include aligning high school exit and college placement standards, linking state funding to college success in boosting completion rates, making it easier for students to transfer among colleges, and re-engaging adults with some college experience but no degree.

The Department of Education is announcing that it is accepting applications for the 2011 Comprehensive Grant Program, which is part of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). The Comprehensive Grant Program will provide a total of $20 million to colleges to implement plans that can increase success and improve productivity in postsecondary schools. The program aims to award innovative reform practices that have the potential to serve as models for the nation.

Tamar Lewin over at the New York Times said that new program is essentially a “‘Race to the Top’ for higher education.”

Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion Department of Education program that gives federal money to reward states and school districts for instituting certain reforms. The education reforms include policy changes related to teacher performance, standards and assessments, and developing data systems.

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