Governors Unveil Their Own Effort to Get More Students Through College

July 11, 2010

The nation's governors became the latest group to throw its weight behind efforts to improve college-completion rates on Sunday, as the new chairman of the National Governors Association announced a plan to create a common set of measures to monitor progress and compare states.

In unveiling the proposal in Boston Sunday during the final day of the association's annual meeting, West Virginia's governor, Joe Manchin III, said that of all the pressing problems facing state leaders in this tough economy, none is more important than improving the number of students with a college credential.

"We're facing a generation of students that is projected to have lower educational attainment than their parents'," Governor Manchin, a Democrat, said in a news conference on Sunday. He called that statistic—which would mark the first time in American history that one generation is less educated than previous ones—"the most alarming stat" and a warning that should drive states to make changes.

The National Governors Association selects its next chairman a year in advance, and that governor later picks a yearlong theme for his colleagues to focus on.

Unlike many previous chairmen, who kicked off their projects at the summer meeting and then issued a report when the governors met again in the winter, Mr. Manchin already had a group working on his issue in advance of Sunday's announcement. As a result, he issued his first report, "Complete to Compete: Common College Completion Metrics," on Sunday. The document recommends the common higher-education measures that all states should collect and report publicly.

Those measures include ones that could show how well states are performing, such as graduation rates and certificates awarded, as well as how they are progressing toward those results, such as enrollment in remedial education and course completion.

In his speech to the governors on Sunday, Mr. Manchin said his own state will be the first to use those measures, and he hopes to report its results this summer. Other states will most likely follow West Virginia in the release of such data. Governor Manchin also hopes to make college completion part of the agenda for a meeting that brings together the nation's new governors soon after the November election. There are gubernatorial elections in 37 states this fall.

The potential for so many new governors to take office makes Mr. Manchin's task even more difficult. Still, he is helped by the fact that many other politicians and foundations are making college completion a top priority.

The United States ranks 10th in the percentage of young adults with college degrees, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Last year, President Obama called on the nation to have the world's highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. One of the country's biggest foundations, the Lumina Foundation for Education, has set its own goal of getting 60 percent of Americans to hold a college degree or credential by 2025, a figure the foundation has said would require 23 million more degrees than would be achieved under current rates of degree attainment.

Lumina is part of an alliance of big-name foundations, including Carnegie, Ford, Gates, and Kellogg, that have pledged to finance programs intended to increase students' success at college. Twenty-two states have already joined that effort, known as the Complete College America Alliance of States.