• September 3, 2015

Governors Unveil Their Own Effort to Get More Students Through College

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.


1. optimysticynic - July 12, 2010 at 08:43 am

With government, university administrators and students all on the same bandwagon (get the credential), who has any incentive for maintaining standards? NO ONE. The lower you make your standards, the better your student evaluations. The lower you make your standards, the more students who pass your class. The lower you make your standards, the higher your retention and graduation rates. Let's just buy a few more copy machines to churn out the credential and forget all the fancy interim stuff: let them matriculate and hand them a degree. Everyone happy? Probably. I continue to be amazed that so many groups are colluding in this fraud and no one is talking about the obvious outcome: people virtually as uneducated as they used to be but who now have a college degree. How does that change anything, except in the rating systems? Oh, right, that's what this is about.

2. honore - July 12, 2010 at 09:21 am

Oh yes, let's "get them all through college".
And yes, all we'll need is more photo-copiers to print-out more worthless, meaningless and unearned degrees and a do-nothing governor to stamp his signature on each degree.
Apparently K-12 has NOW been designated as irrelevant.
Yipppeee, we'll now have more unemployed "college grads" with fraudulent degrees and decades of student loan debt to destroy their credit ratings and subsequently their economic futures.
Now that's progress!
So now we'll have "education" governors to complement our "education" president at the trough.

3. graywolf - July 12, 2010 at 10:20 am

Many of the efforts place an emphasis on quality as well as quantity. Have either of you read them? I have.

If you have not, then you may want to examine the quality of the programs from which you earned your degrees because they apparently fostered the development of a skill set that causes you to respectively jump to conclusions without first checking out the context and content. ;)

All good natured barbs aside, by no means am I endorsing the various efforts in total. I am, however, in favor of anything that allows institutions of higher education to perform better than they/we currently do. To say this is all institutional is not valid. To say institutions do not have a part in this is also not valid -- because that is tantamount to "blaming the victim."

Undoubtedly this is complex, but without a goal, there is no direction for effort that helps understand the complexities and guides action and evaluation based on that knowledge.

In a knowledge-based global economy, quality education is not something that creates more unemployed workers. It is something that enhances the likelihood that people will have meaningful employment. It is also something that contributes to the health of the democratic republic.

None of these proposals are perfect, but given the confluence between the various sources and the importance of that which is being promoted, I for one advocate inquiry-based action over passive negative reaction.

Also, minimized standards do not translate into higher completion rates in a university setting. Time and time again, minimal standards actually are shown to cause serious students to seek a more challenging environment and the same minimal standards do very little in helping an institution retain the lower profile students. You need to consult Bowen, Chingos and MacPherson's Crossing the Finish Line and read about how "over matching" propels slightly less-qualified students to graduation and "under matching" propels them out the door.

Bottom line, higher expectations -- not lower ones -- matter. That is true for both the institutions that admit the students as well as the students who go there.

These proposals are pushing for higher institutional expectations as well as encouraging the institutions to figure out how to set higher student expectations and provide support to realize the educational goals. Retention and graduation rates are the byproduct of better educational experiences.

Are you up for making that occur, or are you basically saying you cannot do that? If the latter, you invite further government involvement and the expansion of less credible private sources that promise that which they do not deliver. You'll reap what you sow.

4. 22070681 - July 12, 2010 at 11:33 am

Thank you, graywolf, for a thoughtful comment. It is possible to improve the way we teach in order to help students learn the material. Simply denying the validity of external, possibly politically based metrics will not make the problem go away.

5. hawkeyecc - July 12, 2010 at 01:26 pm

Retention and helping our students succeed should be our goal as educators, and if the governor wants to help me do that, more power to him/her. If resources are allocated to assist with the development of truly functioning remedial programs that actually prepare students for the rigors of college work, I'm all for that. I will not, on the other hand, lower standards just so my numbers look good. Developing innovative, quality teaching methods that help each student to attain their goal is the key.

One of our biggest issues is that resources continue to decrease, not increase. Faculty take on heavier loads and therefore have less time to work on innovative approaches to teaching. Curriculum does not get revised because no one has time to complete the work. Administration wants success but is unwilling or unable to fund those programs that may help.

I am not in favor of government setting standards, but I do know that most faculty today are barely treading water, let alone really ensuring that each student succeeds. This is happening in the K-12 system, as well as in higher education. Larger classes, less individual help, less time with each student, and less rigorous evaluations. Good evaluation takes time. Let's get back to adequately funding community colleges and we'll see a pronounced difference in the number of college graduates.

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