• August 21, 2014

White House Turns to Governors in Quest to Raise College-Completion Rates

The Obama administration is scheduled to release today a college-completion "tool kit" containing strategies to help the nation's governors develop plans to significantly boost graduation rates in their states.

The administration will also release a calculation of how many students each state must graduate to reach the administration's college-completion goal by the year 2020. Officials will also describe several grant programs to help governors execute their plans.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to issue the call to action during a speech today at a meeting here sponsored by an alliance of business, nonprofit, and advocacy groups, Building a Grad Nation Summit. At the summit, attendees are discussing ways to curb high-school dropout rates and prepare young people for college and the work force.

Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, who spoke at the opening of the summit Monday night, said in a phone call with reporters several hours earlier that the country needs to "educate its way to a better economy" and that governors must lead the way.

"If governors dramatically boost college-completion rates in their states to all-time highs, it will be good for them and good for the country," Mr. Duncan said.

President Obama has set a goal for the nation to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020. To reach that mark, the U.S. Department of Education projects that the proportion of college graduates must increase by 50 percent nationwide by the end of the decade. That means eight million more young adults will need to earn associate's and bachelor's degrees by 2020.

Because total populations and graduation rates differ from state to state, some must hit higher targets than others. For example, Florida needs to graduate between 1.4 million and 1.6 million more college students by 2020. In Colorado, the figure is about 450,000.

Formulating a Plan

Several states, including Colorado, Kentucky, and Virginia, have already set statewide attainment goals, yet most have not. To help more states develop college-completion plans, the administration is providing states with a tool kit describing several strategies that governors can use.

Those include stabilizing tuition growth, encouraging adults with some college experience but no degree to finish, and making it easier for students to transfer among colleges. The administration is optimistic that those tactics will markedly increase college-completion levels and promote new partnerships among state education officials and businesses.

With states facing tough budget constraints, the administration is putting a number of additional grants on the table to help governors meet their states' college-completion goals.

The Education Department is expected to announce today that it is accepting applications for the 2011 Comprehensive Program, which is part of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. The grant program will provide a total of $20-million to institutions whose applications show promising practices that will increase graduation rates and improve productivity, especially by reducing instructional costs.

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