National effort required to close attainment gaps linked to race, ethnicity and age

INDIANAPOLIS – A new report released today by Lumina Foundation reveals real progress has been made in the national effort to increase postsecondary attainment, but current rates won’t be enough to meet America’s future economic and workforce demands. The annual report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, finds that unless actions are taken now to significantly increase postsecondary attainment, the nation will fall short of workforce needs by the end of this decade.

According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020. Yet, according to Lumina’s A Stronger Nation through Higher Education report, only 40 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2013—the most recent year for which data are available. That figure is up from 2012, when the rate was 39.4 percent, and from 2008, when the rate was 37.9 percent, or a total of more than 2.8 million more degrees.

This progress reflects both increasing demand for postsecondary credentials and the efforts of higher education institutions, policymakers and many others to respond to that demand. But, these incremental gains aren’t nearly enough to reach the goal—a national effort calling for 60 percent of Americans to have a high-quality postsecondary degree, certificate or other credential by the year 2025.

“Economists and other experts give us good reason to be convinced that reaching the 2025 attainment goal is a national imperative,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “We have just 10 years to reach it, and our current pace of progress is insufficient for meeting employers’ workforce needs and addressing the growing inequality issues we face as a nation. For America to truly prosper—for the nation to attain, not just individual opportunity and economic security, but social justice and cohesion—an increased sense of urgency is needed to expand college success dramatically, and in all directions.”

Closing Attainment Gaps Linked to Race, Ethnicity and Age

The Stronger Nation report shows big degree attainment gaps continue to exist by race. Asian adults (ages 25-64) lead all races with 60.1 percent degree attainment (up from 59.4 percent), and Whites follow with 44.5 percent attainment (up from 43.9 percent). But the African American adult attainment rate is 28.1 percent (up from 27.6 percent), the rate for Native American adults is 23.9 percent (up from 23.4 percent) and the rate for Hispanic adults is 20.3 percent (up from 19.8 percent).

The good news is that attainment rates by race increased across the board from 2012 to 2013. And attainment rates among young adults (ages 25-34)—a promising indicator of future results—continue to outpace the overall adult population.

But, enrollment trends are less encouraging. While the number of college graduates increased again in 2013—with 2.9 million obtaining associate and bachelor’s degrees—enrollment went down by 600,000 students, most notably among adult students. Enrollment was also down among African American and Native American students and flat among Hispanic students.

A Roadmap to Reach the Goal

A Stronger Nation estimates that if current trends continue, 30.7 million more Americans will earn college credentials by 2025. That increase will allow the nation to reach an attainment rate of 48.7 percent over the next 10 years—well short of the 60 percent needed. To reach the Goal, Lumina estimates that another 19.8 million postsecondary credentials will need to be added. According to A Stronger Nation, there are three areas where action is most needed to move the attainment needle in America.

  1. Increase Persistence and Completion Far too many students drop out of college without completing a degree, and states and institutions need to follow the lead of states like Tennessee by implementing a comprehensive approach to increasing completion. Making college affordable for all Americans who need it should be an urgent national priority, and will require that we rethink many of our assumptions about how much college costs and how we pay for it. We also must work on creating better pathways to guide students successfully through postsecondary education systems.“For many decades, education has proven to be this nation’s single most powerful engine of individual progress and upward mobility. And in today’s rapidly changing workplace that’s truer than ever. We must create greater opportunity for significantly more Americans from all walks of life to prosper from the benefits that education beyond high school provides,” said Merisotis.
  2. Target the “Some College, No Degree” Population As a result of attrition rates, an astounding 36.2 million Americans—nearly 22 percent of the working-age population—between the ages of 25 and 64—have attended college but did not obtain a degree. All states should follow the lead of states like Georgia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky to re-engage this critical group. If just 15 percent of these “some college, no degree” adults complete, that would result in nearly 5.5 million more Americans with degrees.
  3. Recognize All Forms of Learning, Including Certificates and Credentials For now, attainment numbers focus on Americans with degrees. But as workforce demands shift, many employers see tremendous value in hiring candidates who hold high-quality certificates, certifications and other credentials that lead to employment and further education. It’s estimated that 7.8 million Americans fall into this category. Lumina Foundation is working to find ways to recognize the learning that these high-quality postsecondary credentials represent and create stronger pathways from them to degrees. Current data don’t allow that, but the Foundation is optimistic that improvements in data systems will soon make this possible.“We need to reflect the importance employers place on these credentials by valuing them more as a society,” said Merisotis. “The good news is that the U.S. Census may begin reporting data on certificates as early as next year. And we are working with numerous organizations to develop a strong national system of postsecondary credentials that allows all high-quality learning beyond high school to count.”

Key Tables from A Stronger Nation through Higher Education Report:

Top 10 states—based on the percentage of adults (25-64) with at least an associate degree in 2013:

  1. MA—51.5% (up from 50.5%)
  2. MN—48.1% (up from 47.7%)
  3. CT—47.8% (up from 47.5%)
  4. CO—47.6% (up from 47.5%)
  5. NJ—46.5% (up from 45.8%)
  6. NH—46.4% (down from 46.7%)
  7. VA—46.1% (up from 45.3%)
  8. NY—46% (up from 45.1%)
  9. MD—46% (up from 45.5%)
  10. ND—45.8% (up from 45.6%)

Top 10 MSAs—based on the percentage of adults (25-64) with at least an associate degree in 2013 (among the 100 most-populated MSAs):

  1. Washington, D.C./Arlington-Alexandria, Va.—55.36%
  2. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.—55.32%
  3. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.—54.73%
  4. Madison, Wis.—54.67%
  5. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.—54.41%
  6. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.—53.79%
  7. Raleigh, N.C.—53.57%
  8. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.—51.80%
  9. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y.—49.82%
  10. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.—49%

Bottom 10 states—based on the percentage of adults (25-64) with at least an associate degree in 2013:

50. WV—28.4% (up from 27.8%)
49. AR—28.8% (down from 29.3% in 2012)
48. LA—29.6% (up from 29.1% in 2012)
47. MS—30.5% (down from 31.1 %)
46. NV—31.1% (up from 30.1%)
45. OK—32.7% (down from 32.9%)
44. KY—32.9% (up from 31.7%)
43. TN—33.8% (up from 33.3%)
42. IN—34.7% (up from 34.4%)
41. NM—34.9% (down from 35.1%)

Bottom 10 MSAs—based on the percentage of adults (25-64) with at least an associate degree in 2013 (among the 100 most-populated MSAs):

100. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas—22.12%
99. Bakersfield, Calif.—22.45%
98. Fresno, Calif.—27.08%
97. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.—27.50%
96. Stockton-Lodi, Calif.—27.64%
95. Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla.—27.89%
94. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev.—29.74%
93. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio—30.46%
92. El Paso, Texas—30.68%
91. Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Fla.—31.45%

College-Attainment Rate Inches Up, but Not Fast Enough for Lumina | Chronicle of Higher Education | Apr. 9, 2015

About Lumina Foundation

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. We envision a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. Our goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.

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