Lumina Describes How Far States Have to Go to Meet College-Completion Goals

September 21, 2010

States must increase the number of college degrees awarded each year in the United States, every year, by a total of nearly 280,000 if the nation is to meet the Lumina Foundation for Education's goal of increasing the proportion of American adults with a college degree to 60 percent by 2025.

In a new report, "A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education: How and Why Americans Must Achieve a 'Big Goal' for College Attainment," which the foundation is scheduled to release today, Lumina officials called their own goal "realistic and attainable." The foundation cited increased attention at the federal, state, and institutional levels to raising college-completion rates—including proposals in several states to base higher-education spending decisions on performance—as promising developments for Lumina's efforts to significantly improve educational attainment.

Still, much progress needs to be made if Lumina's benchmark is to be met.

About 38 percent of American adults, ages 25 to 64, now hold a two-year college degree or higher. If degree production continues to grow at the current rate, the United States would increase the number of new college graduates by about 112,000 each year, less than half the amount needed to reach the 60-percent goal, the foundation's report says.

Some states have much further to go than others. The report, which provides details of degree-attainment rates at state and county levels, shows that just over one-quarter of West Virginia residents have a college degree, the lowest proportion in the nation. Massachusetts has the highest rate, with close to half of its residents holding a college degree.

A National Priority

The 60-percent goal is the centerpiece of Lumina's agenda and its grant making. President Obama has set a similar priority for higher education, calling on the nation to be atop the world by 2020 in the proportion of residents with a college degree or credential.

Improving college attainment is critical not only to improving the United States' standing in the world, the Lumina report says, but also to increasing individuals' earning potential and meeting the nation's own economic needs. Sixty percent of American jobs will require a postsecondary degree by 2018, according to projections by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce that were cited in the Lumina report,

To improve educational attainment, the report says, states and colleges should focus both on increasing the rate at which students complete college and on getting more adults in the work force to return to college to complete degrees.

More than 37 million Americans, about 22 percent of the working adult population, has attended college but not completed a degree, the report says.

Lumina also said the nation should "redouble" efforts to close college-going gaps among people of different income levels and racial groups. While 59 percent of Asian adults and 42 percent of non-Hispanic white adults have earned college degrees, only 26 percent of black adults, 23 percent of American Indian adults, and 19 percent of Hispanic adults have done so, the report says.

Lumina plans to update its report every year to track progress toward the 2025 goal. The report will be available on the foundation's Web site.