INDIANAPOLIS, IN—At a time when the United States urgently needs to increase the number of Americans who hold a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential, a new report released today by Lumina Foundation for Education shows that the rate of higher education attainment has barely moved.

The report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education PDF | 9M | 110 pgs., points out that in 2007, 37.7 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 held a two- or four-year college degree. For 2008, the number is 37.9 percent. If the current rate of increase remains, less than 47 percent of Americans will hold a two- or four-year degree by 2025. Economic experts say this is far below the level that can keep the nation competitive in the global, knowledge-based economy.

The Stronger Nation report tracks progress toward Lumina’s “Big Goal” namely, that 60 percent of Americans hold high-quality degrees by 2025. It measures progress at the national, state and county levels, with individual profiles for all 50 states. For the first time, readers will be able to compare local attainment with that of their county, state and the nation. Among the states, the percentage of adults with college degrees ranges from a low of about 26 percent in West Virginia to a high of about 50 percent in Massachusetts. The report also shows that progress by most racial/ethnic groups is lagging, with achievement among Latinos the lowest at just over 18 percent.

The call for more Americans to obtain high-quality higher education has been taken up by many groups and thought leaders. Researcher and noted labor economist Anthony Carnevale, Director of The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, presented findings from his “Help Wanted” report that predicts by the year 2018, the nation will have a shortage of 3 million workers with the required postsecondary degrees to fill the jobs of the future. To reach 60 percent attainment by 2025, Lumina’s report shows that the U.S. will need to increase the number of high-quality degrees or credentials awarded annually by 278,000.

When we first set this ‘Big Goal’ we knew it would be ambitious, but now it is clear that not only is it necessary—it is also realistic and attainable,” said Jamie Merisotis, Lumina’s president and CEO. “Different states have different challenges, but all states have a clear pathway to increase attainment rates.”

For example, to meet the goal of 60 percent attainment, Wyoming will need to add about 61,000 additional college degrees during the next 15 years, while California will need to add more than 4.7 million.

One of the biggest developments in this year’s report is the strength of the relationship between higher education and the economy,” said Dewayne Matthews, Lumina’s vice president for policy and strategy. “People are beginning to understand that job growth is a structural issue, and that higher education is the key to economic growth.”

Postsecondary degree attainment has been a major factor in driving economic productivity gains over the last 40 years. Economists concur that much of the productivity gains over that period can be attributed to two key factors: technology, which changed the way we work and the nature of work itself, and educational attainment.

To reach the “Big Goal,” not only will more high school graduates need to enroll in postsecondary institutions, but working adults who have earned some college credit need to complete their degrees. More than 37 million Americans, or 22 percent of the U.S. workforce, have attended college but have not completed a degree.

Lumina believes the nation needs to focus on the new majority of learners in the 21st Century: students of color, low-income, first generation students, and adults with some college, but no degree. Rates for these groups continue to lag significantly even as they become a larger share of the potential student pool.

Reaching the ‘Big Goal’ is a national economic and social imperative,” said Merisotis. “The opportunity to change the rules of the game and create a higher education system capable of producing much higher levels of attainment is before us. We can get there, but we clearly have work to do.

Copies of the full report and individual state profiles are available at: www.luminafoundation.org/stronger_nation

About Lumina Foundation

Lumina Foundation for Education is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college—especially low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners. Our goal is to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: by identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change.

Follow Lumina Foundation on Twitter @luminafound, and stay up-to-date with updates regarding the “Big Goal” @Goal2025. You can also follow @jamieindy, Lumina’s CEO, Jamie P. Merisotis.

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