Lumina’s big goal: To increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025

The Impact of Attainment

There is clear evidence that rising attainment rates in other countries reflect genuine economic demand for a better-educated workforce. In 29 of the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the gap in earnings between people who have completed some form of higher education and those who have not is widening, even though the proportion of college graduates in the workforce is increasing. If the economy were not demanding higher levels of skills and knowledge, this earnings gap would narrow as the supply of graduates increased; it’s simple supply and demand. The widening earnings gap is evident in the U.S. as well. Since 1975, average annual earnings of high school dropouts and high school graduates fell in real terms (by 15 percent and 1 percent respectively), while those of college graduates rose by 19 percent. In other words, the economic benefits – both for individuals and the society – of completing higher education are growing.

We don’t know precisely what percentage of jobs require higher education today, much less what that percentage will be in the future. Lumina is supporting research that is closing in on an answer, however, and we already know the number is considerably higher than the current supply of college graduates. Preliminary research shows that the rate of higher education attainment that the U.S. must reach is at least 60 percent. In addition to its economic benefits, higher education has proven lasting social impact. By increasing the attainment level to 60 percent, we can expect significant increases in volunteerism, voting, philanthropic giving and education levels for future generations as well as significant reductions in crime rates, poverty and health care costs.

Based on current estimates, to reach the 60 percent level by 2025, the U.S. higher education system must produce 23 million more college graduates than are expected at present rates of production. The actual size of the gap will shift annually, as we make progress and new data become available. Obviously, we can’t close this gap overnight. But, for example, if we can start to increase the rate of attainment each year and produce 150,000 more graduates than the year before – an annual increase of about 5 percent – we will reach the big goal by 2025.

The Impact of Attainment

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