The federal government has played a major role in increasing access to education beyond high school. Laws that created public land-grant universities and expanded education to citizens returning from military service and people from low-income households made it possible for tens of millions of Americans to earn college degrees.

But policies that primarily encourage people to enroll in college are no longer enough to meet the country’s needs. More than 36 million adults have some college experience but stopped out before earning their degrees. The U.S. government must collaborate with state governments, businesses, community groups, and others to ensure more working-age adults succeed in earning academic credentials. And the definition of success must expand beyond the four-year, on-campus experience to include certificate programs offered through community colleges and industry-recognized certifications that lead to promotions and better jobs as well as position people to pursue even more education or training.

Lumina’s Federal Policy recommendations include:

  1. Supporting today’s students no matter where or how they learn.
  2. Eliminating disparities in educational outcomes across racial and ethnic groups.
  3. Reforming quality assurance to focus on individual student outcomes.
  4. Ensuring affordability.
  5. Align post-high school education and workforce development systems.

Crafting federal policies that address the country’s complicated, diverse, and sprawling systems of education and training after high school is challenging. The country still has several years to reach the national goal of 60 percent of working-age adults with college degrees, certificates, and industry certifications by 2025. With guiding principles, the nation can make it happen. These principles, supported by nonpartisan research and analyses, include:

  • Affordable, easy-to-navigate pathways that build people’s knowledge, skills, and abilities in clear ways and lead to on-time program completion, better jobs and pay raises, and preparation for further learning.

  • Relevant learning after high school that counts toward a wide array of credentials, regardless of how, when, or where the knowledge and skills are acquired, including on the job or in military service.

  • Emphases on achieving better educational outcomes among people who are Black, Hispanic, and Native American and have faced social, political, and economic barriers to success; working-age adults who are increasingly pursuing education and training after high school; immigrants and other students who are the first in their families to go to college; and Americans living at or near poverty levels.

  • Quality standards that are rooted in clear, well-defined learning outcomes that allow colleges, universities, and other education providers to offer people new, less costly learning opportunities through responsible innovation.