Pace of College Attainment is Still Not Enough to Meet Future Workforce Needs.

As the demand for skilled workers continues to grow, a new report released by Lumina Foundation shows that the rate of college attainment is steadily improving across America. Unfortunately, the pace of progress is far too modest to meet future workforce needs. The report also finds massive and ongoing gaps in educational achievement – gaps tied to race, income and other socioeconomic factors – that must be addressed.

According to the report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, 38.7 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2011 – the most recent year for which data are available. That figure is up from 2010, when the rate was 38.3 percent and from 2009, when the rate was 38.1 percent. The Stronger Nation report measures progress toward Goal 2025 which is a national effort to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.

“Research tells us that 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020, yet fewer than 40 percent of Americans are educated beyond high school today,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of Lumina. “Our pace of attainment has been too slow and America is now facing a troubling talent gap. If we intend to address this problem, new strategies are required and a heightened sense of urgency is needed among policymakers, business leaders and higher education institutions across our nation.”

Achievement Gaps by Race Continue

Educational success has historically been uneven across America, particularly among, low-income, first-generation students, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants and adults who are underrepresented among college students and graduates. The Stronger Nation report shows that degree attainment rates among adults (ages 25-64) in the U.S. continue to be woefully unbalanced, with 59.1 percent of Asians having a degree versus 43.3 percent of whites, 27.1 percent of blacks, 23.0 of Native Americans and 19.3 of Hispanics.

As worrisome as those differentials are, there is an even more troubling trend in the data regarding young adults (ages 25-29) who serve as a leading indicator of where the nation’s higher education attainment rates are headed overall. The highest attainment rate for 25- to 29-year old Americans is among Asians at 65.6 percent, followed by non-Hispanic whites at 44.9 percent. Then, the bottom drops out with an attainment rate for young African-Americans at 24.7 percent, for Hispanics at 17.9 percent and for Native Americans at 16.9 percent.

“This is an intolerable situation,” said Merisotis. “We certainly must close these gaps to meet the attainment levels that our nation needs. But the fact that these racial achievement differentials even exist must be rejected on both moral and economic grounds, given the increasingly severe consequences that come with not having a degree beyond high school. Our democracy and our economy are ill-served by a system that fails to effectively tap all of our available talent.”

New Strategies for Reaching Goal 2025

Earlier this year, Lumina released a new Strategic Plan that outlines how the Foundation will work over the next four years to help move the country closer to reaching Goal 2025. The plan includes strategies to: 1) design and build a higher education system for the 21st century, and 2) mobilize employers, policymakers, institutions, state and metro leaders and others to better position America for success in the knowledge economy.

The strategies for designing and building a 21st century higher education system focus on: creating new models of student financial support; developing new higher education business and finance models, and creating new systems of quality credentials and credits defined by learning and competencies rather than time.

The mobilization strategies focus on: building a social movement to support increased attainment in America; working with employers, metro areas and regions to encourage broader adoption of Goal 2025; advancing state and federal policy for increased attainment, and mobilizing higher education institutions and systems to increase the adoption of data- and evidence-based policies, partnerships and practices.

“The strength of our nation – or any nation – is its people, the sum total of talents, skills and abilities inherent in its citizenry,” said Merisotis. “America needs a bigger and more talented workforce to succeed, but we cannot expect our citizens to meet the demands of the 21st century without a 21st century education. That’s why we are working to mobilize more stakeholders to commit to achieving this 60 percent college-attainment goal. And it’s why we are working to design and build a new system of higher education that is grounded in quality and is flexible and affordable enough to properly serve the needs of students, employers and society at large.”

To measure progress toward Goal 2025 in the near term, Lumina has established 10 specific achievement targets for 2016 that will guide the Foundation’s work. They include:

55 percent of Americans will believe that increasing higher education attainment is necessary to the nation. (2012 baseline = 43 percent)

67.8 percent of students will pursue postsecondary education directly from high school. (2012 baseline = 62.5 percent)

1.3 percent of older adults will be first-time participants in higher education. (2012 baseline = 1.1 percent)

3.3 million Hispanic students will be enrolled in college. (2012 baseline = 2.5 million)

3.25 million African-American students will be enrolled in college. (2012 baseline = 2.7 million)

22 million students will be enrolled in college across America. (2012 baseline = 18.1 million)

800,000 fewer working-age adults (ages 25-64) will have some college and no degree (2012 baseline = 36.3 million; 2016 target = 35.5 million)

60 percent of first-time, full-time students will complete college within six years. (2012 baseline = 54 percent)

48 percent of adult learners (ages 25-64) will complete higher education. (2012 baseline = 45 percent)

3 million will be the number of associate and bachelor’s degrees awarded annually. (An increase of 500,000 per year based on 2012 baseline of 2.5 million)

Key Tables from A Stronger Nation through Higher Education Report:

Top 10 states by degree attainment in 2011:

1. MA – 50.8%
2. CO – 47.0%
3. MN – 46.6%
4. CT – 46.4%
5. VT – 46.2%
6. NH – 45.8%
7. MD – 45.4%
8. NJ – 45.1%
9. VA – 45.0%
10. ND – 44.7%

Top 10 MSAs by degree attainment in 2011 (among the 100 most-populated MSAs):

Madison, WI 54.81%
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 54.73%
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 54.25%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 54.15%
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 52.86%
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 52.76%
Raleigh-Cary, NC 52.64%
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 50.65%
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 49.27%
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 48.28%

Bottom 10 states by degree attainment in 2011: State

41. IN – 33.8%
42. OK – 33.0%
43. TN – 32.1%
44. AL – 31.9%
45. KY – 30.8%
46. MS – 30.3%
47. NV – 30.0%
48. AR – 28.2%
49. LA – 27.9%
50. WV – 27.8%

Bottom 10 MSAs by degree attainment in 2011 (among the 100 most-populated MSAs):

Lancaster, PA 31.74%
Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 29.59%
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 29.38%
El Paso, TX 28.97%
Fresno, CA 27.90%
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 27.20%
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 27.02%
Stockton, CA 26.75%
Bakersfield-Delano, CA 21.35%
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 21.21%

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