Progress must be accelerated to improve our nation’s prospects

Experts highlight bright spots while calling for redesign of America’s higher education system

WASHINGTON, DC, March 26, 2012—As college completion rates continue to climb in other parts of the world, a new report released today by Lumina Foundation shows that we must do significantly more to build on the modest gains in higher education attainment seen here at home. Experts gathered at the Rayburn House Office Building to announce the latest findings, highlight what is working and discuss how a stronger sense of urgency is needed to better position America for success in the knowledge economy.

According to the report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education , 38.3 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2010. That rate is up modestly from 2009, when the rate was 38.1 percent and 2008, when the rate was 37.9 percent. The report measures progress toward Goal 2025 which is a national movement to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.

The Stronger Nation report shows that if we continue on our current rate of production, only 79.8 million working-age Americans (46.5% of those aged 25-64) will hold degrees by 2025. Since this will leave us more than 23 million degrees short of the national 60 percent goal, the need to rapidly accelerate degree attainment levels is clear.

“More people are graduating from college, but the current pace is not sufficient,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of Lumina. “America is grappling with how to grow jobs, skills and opportunity, and this report highlights the economic imperative of getting a postsecondary degree. This issue can’t be wished away by fanciful talk about higher education ‘bubbles’ and whether college is worth it. Education is the only route to economic prosperity for both individuals and the nation. That should matter to policymakers. It should matter to business leaders. And it certainly should matter to our education leaders.”

Adopting Attainment Goals

Heeding this call, a growing number of states have established goals for college completion, and many have committed to measuring progress. Numerous cities, business groups and higher education institutions have also set attainment goals.

“It is an exciting time for higher education in Illinois,” said Illinois Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon. “We need more students to complete college on time and with degrees and credentials that are relevant to the workforce. The Goal 2025 movement provides the direction that our states, colleges and universities need to increase graduation rates and connect students to good jobs. Goal 2025 will lead to a more educated and prosperous Illinois.”

We will lose our competitive edge as a nation if we don’t recommit ourselves to advancing educational attainment.

“We will lose our competitive edge as a nation if we don’t recommit ourselves to advancing educational attainment,” said Mick Fleming president of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. “In many ways, the business community determines the market value of education through the jobs it creates. So it is essential for chambers and employers to play a key role in this endeavor.”

Redesigning Our Higher Education System

In a recent Gallup-Lumina Foundation poll, the vast majority of Americans said that they believe economic well-being is tied to holding a college degree. But there are barriers to moving the country to a 60 percent attainment rate. Many state universities and community colleges face both financial constraints and a lack of space.

A majority of Americans in the Gallup-Lumina poll also raised concerns about tuition increases and questioned whether college and universities are able to deliver the job-relevant learning that is required today. These realities have experts increasingly exploring ways to focus on productivity and quality in the system.

“We must do more to transform higher education so we can achieve the higher levels of attainment that are required for global competitiveness,” said Merisotis. “We must figure out how to better align workforce needs with all kinds of postsecondary credentials, particularly for the large number of adults who find their job skills are less relevant in today’s labor market. Likewise, we simply cannot reach the Big Goal without addressing the considerable equity gaps in this country. Students of color are an integral part of the 23 million, along with low-income students, first-generation students, and returning adults. A Stronger Nation reports attainment data disaggregated by race and ethnicity to underscore Lumina’s commitment to equity, as well as the social and economic reality that the goal represents.”

What is Working?

According to the Stronger Nation report, 39.3 percent of young adults (ages 25-34) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2010. That is a full percentage point higher than for all adults and a good leading indicator of where attainment rates are headed. In 2008, young adults ranked below the adult population as a whole.

“America’s youth are running faster in the race to college but not keeping up with skill and employer demand on the job. Currently, even in the great recession, supply is growing by one percent and demand is growing twice as fast,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The report also shows modest degree attainment gains from 2008-2010 across U.S. adult populations groups. The rates as of 2010 include: Asian (59.36%), White (42.96%), Black (26.84%), Native American (22.83%), and Hispanic (19.21%).

The top five states for college degree attainment as of 2010 are: Massachusetts (50.54%), Colorado (45.98%), New Hampshire (45.85%), Connecticut (45.84%) and Minnesota (45.79%). The top five metropolitan areas, ranked by degree attainment, are the Metropolitan Statistical Areas of: Washington, D.C. (54.37%), Boston (54.01%), San Francisco (52.91%), Minneapolis (50.06%), and Seattle (47.97%).

Detailed data arrays in the report show degree attainment percentages at the national, state and county levels. For the first time, Lumina Foundation offers– in addition to state- and county-level data–data on attainment in the 100 largest metropolitan areas and offers insights into what can be done to accelerate achievement across the country.

“We know that local business leaders and employers will be key partners in reaching the Big Goal and this is one of many steps we are taking to ensure these leaders have the tools they need to affect change,” said Merisotis.

Key Tables from A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education Report:

Top 10 states by degree attainment in 2010: Massachusetts (50.54%); Colorado (45.98%); New Hampshire (45.85%); Connecticut (45.84%); Minnesota (45.79%); New Jersey (45.3%); North Dakota (44.95%); Maryland (44.14%); New York (44.14%), and Vermont (44.07%).

Top 10 metro areas by degree attainment in 2010 (with a population of at least 2 million): Washington D.C. (54.37%); Boston (54.01%); San Francisco (52.91%); Minneapolis (50.06%); Seattle (47.97%); New York (45.88%); San Diego (43.95%); Baltimore (43.90%); Chicago (43.59%), and Atlanta (43.39%).

Bottom 10 states by degree attainment in 2010: West Virginia (26.08%); Arkansas (27.92%); Louisiana (28.24%); Nevada (29.46%); Mississippi (29.86%); Kentucky (30.04%); Alabama (31.46%); Oklahoma (31.72%); Tennessee (31.85%), and New Mexico (33.08%).

Bottom 10 MSAs by degree attainment in 2010 (based on the top 100 most populated MSAs): McAllen, TX (20.78%); Bakersfield, CA (21.33%); Stockton, CA (26.11%); Riverside, CA (27.54%); Lakeland, FL (27.57%); El Paso, TX (28.05%); Youngstown, PA (28.71%); Fresno, CA (28.71%); Las Vegas, NV (29.67%), and Baton Rouge, LA (31.65%).

Stronger Nation App: The Stronger Nation Report app can be downloaded through the iTunes store by using the search term “Stronger Nation 2012.”

Video Compilation: Leaders from Lumina Foundation talk about the report and how to increase degree attainment in America

News Release Sound Bites: Leaders from Lumina Foundation talk about the report and how to increase degree attainment in America:

About Lumina Foundation: Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college—especially 21st century students: low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners.  Lumina wants 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.

Media contacts:

Lucia Anderson
Lumina Foundation
Michael Marker
VOX Global
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4 Responses to New report finds modest gains in America’s college attainment rates;

  1. Shawn Warren says:

    Dear Lumina Foundation and Goal 2025 Initiative,

    I also have a single-stroke solution to the HE crisis. One that would revolutionize HE, ensure the realization of the Goal 2025 mandate, and more substantially it would stabilize and evolve the enterprise of HE on many fundamental metrics.

    However, it requires a paradigm shift in the provision of HE. We currently labour under the hybrid university-government-union paradigm, we consider iconic and identical to the commodities of HE – it is not. It is a functionary, a social institution, not the human enterprise of (higher) education. It is also without dispute not sustainable.

    I have a proposal to facilitate the HE enterprise under the professional service paradigm – as we find in the the legal, medical, and engineering service sectors of society; each offering highly valuable social commodities that we insist be so provided…

    Under this paradigm, the vast majority of HE programs could be provided at around the going price of tuition – alone, no substantial or direct public subsidy/investment required. Imagine what that would mean…

    I beg you to examine this proposal. I want nothing. Take it. Test it. If it is viable it will change everything on a global scale for HE. If it is flawed, I will resume efforts.

    With respect, I expect that your reasoning on HE is likely framed within the hybrid university/college-government-union paradigm. It is the only means of producing the goods of HE that we have known, and so it is hypnotic. As a consequence, I offer these initial steps in reframing the discussion and invite you to then go to my website for a more complete presentation of the proposal.

    First, acknowledge that the hybrid IS NOT to be identified with the human enterprise of HE. It is merely a means of facilitating the enterprise, of manufacturing the goods – if universities/colleges, unions and government oversight/funding disappeared tomorrow the human drive for (higher) education would continue, only within a different framework or paradigm. This is an historical and conceptual fact. The hybrid is not the disciplinary content, curricula, pedagogy or research of HR – it is a functionary, period. We must break the glamour of the ivory.

    Second, the goods of higher education are at least as valuable as the social goods found in other human enterprises such as the law, engineering, medicine, finance, etc. Each of these latter is routinely and adequately provided society under the professional paradigm. In fact, we insist on it.

    Third, the essential labour of HE is academics. They exclusively and directly produce the products of HE – education and research – generate the reputation for those products and determine the standards and best practices for the industry (including, accreditation). The rest of the existing hybrid paradigm is nothing but facilitation and means, period.

    Fourth, the previous observation is equally true of the existing professions and academia because both possess specialized knowledge affording the profession/vocation and practitioner/professor unique status in society. This knowledge is the essence of the professional paradigm, operating as the main clause of the social contract between society and the members of these specialized service sectors. The knowledge is held in trust by the profession and engenders certain privileges and obligations for its practitioners – knowledge that is the sole prevue of academics, who are not themselves a formal profession…

    This sets an initial framework for my proposal. I implore you to take it seriously. There is far too much at stake to ignore even the unfamiliar from the unknown. If viable, the potential benefits of this paradigm to all interested parties are remarkable.

    Shawn Warren, PhD.

  2. I am not American, but educated by Caltech and Stanford 40 years ago .
    I follow USA education for the last 15 years .

    Now you have the best opportunity to solve HE in USA.
    1.- MIT started online courses free on 5.March.2012
    2.- They will award credentials too, probably after a while some degree too
    3.- First course is being followed by 100,000 students in the world .
    Electronic engineering 6.002
    4.- In september 2012 MIT will start more courses with 1,000,000 students.

    Be the firsts. World follow it more than USA follows it .

    MIT can provide 23 million short degrees until 2025 within 15 years .
    MIT will reach to 200,000,000 students by 2022 with 23 million graduates every year mostly non Americans . Be smart and register with MIT .

    5.- MIT can provide all graduates you need by 2025 even more

    • Shawn Warren says:

      Dear Gozaydin,

      These ventures by Stanford, MIT, Wiki, Microsoft and others are wonderful additions to the HE platform, but they could not on their own hope to realize the 2025 goal.

      Technology is wonderful and will ultimately constitute our entire educational experience – a voice command transforms my living room into an MIT classroom replete with avatars of my fellow students and an AI instructor. But we are a very long way from that desirable time and in the meantime we have millions of students who can indeed enrol but completion is another matter – and the only matter here.

      As I recall, Stanford enrolled around 300,000 students online this year – and 60,000 or so finished. The rest show similar completion rates.

      We need pedagogy and educators, and technology can help with that, but it is not the only answer. And the rest of the pieces of the solution are being hopelessly fumbled with in assembly.

      Kind Regards,
      Shawn Warren

  3. [...] The report, by the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, ranks the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area fifth in the nation in terms of the number of its adults who have an associate degree or higher. [...]