• September 3, 2015

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

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.


1. jffoster - September 21, 2010 at 07:58 am

Oh how horrible! The United States together and / or severally may not meet Lumina's goals.

And who the hell is/are Lumina, who elected them to set goals which we are then "supposed" to try to meet?

We arent even required by Law to try to meet Obama's goals, but at least he was elected to office by a majority vote of the Electors.

And will be out of office in two to six years.

2. quidditas - September 21, 2010 at 08:51 am

"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"

Well, merely churning out more certificates will continue to lower earning potential of the recipients and do nothing to meet the nation's or individual's economic needs if said certificate recipients rely on "getting a 'job'" and no one pays any attention to generating "economic 'growth'" in a way that actually includes "'job' creation."

And, how many of these jobs "requiring" a certificate could really be filled by those without them?

Can we even be sure that the certificate does what is purports to do in the broadest sense? ie., how literate are today's "college graduates" really?

Even here in the pages of the Chronicle, we see an awful lot of properly punctuated formulaic academic groupthink, unsupported by evidence and unchallenged by a reality that is much more complicated than that its writers assume--is THAT literacy?

If so, many high school graduates are already perfectly literate, if unacculturated to academic groupthink. Is being unacculturated to academic groupthink REALLY such a bad thing?

Also, I agree with #3--the author should have let us know what "Lumina" is. Sounds like a lightbulb manufacturer. GE--"we bring good things to life" and what have you.

3. quidditas - September 21, 2010 at 08:53 am

Oops--now it's #1. Looks like we got rid of the spam.

4. educationfrontlines - September 21, 2010 at 09:14 am

The ACT finds only 23% of ACT test-takers are college ready. NCPPHE and SREB find that about 15% of students at selective colleges, half at state universities and three-fourths at community colleges need remediation.

Then the Dept. of Labor statistics on future job requirements predict only 20% of the future workforce will need a bachelors degree or higher while a Georgetown study puts this at 34%.

In this context, the political call for raising retention will have the following effect:

1. severe grade inflation must begin immediately
2. graduates receiving a bonafide degree will be diluted in a sea of classmates who received a degree for far less academic accomplishment
3. the value of a U.S. degree, at least from the public non-selective universities, will dramatically decline internationally
4. the bachelors degree will indeed become the new high school diploma in both social expectation and academic value
5. the earning value of higher degrees will compress downward as we have more college credentialled graduates driving taxis

Only in the US would we propose such a target without due consideration of the consequences.

For the first time in our history, the 20-25 year old cohort will earn a lower number of college degrees than prior generations, a direct consequence of the abyssmal No Child Left Behind policies, a decade of federal mandates to raise performance. Now we can extend the mandate and devalue our public tertiary system as well.

John Richard Schrock

5. washingtonwarrior - September 21, 2010 at 10:00 am

Will increasing the number of college graduates water down the end product?

6. softshellcrab - September 21, 2010 at 10:25 am

@ educationfrontlines, Prof. Schrock (comment no. 4)

Thanks for saying this much better than I could. What a stupid goal - "more degrees". Like that means the same thing as "more knowledge". All it will do is encourage more of the same handing out of degrees like party favors that is already going on. We need less people going to college, not more, and for a college degree to really mean something rigorous. This initiative is taking us in the opposite direction.

7. anonlibrarian - September 21, 2010 at 01:09 pm

So a former president and COO of Sallie Mae sits right on the board. It is shocking, SHOCKING how many Americans are slipping into adulthood without being saddled by enourmous debt loads. This must be stopped immediately! Debt slavery for everyone!

8. joffyjaffra - September 21, 2010 at 01:29 pm

what people want are REAL JOBS.

It seems there is a facebook group for everything:

9. mollygmartin - September 21, 2010 at 02:38 pm

Hi all. Full disclosure: I work for Lumina and am supportive of Goal 2025. That being said :) thank you for taking the time to think about Stronger Nation & ask good, challenging questions. As several of you have raised, the most important component of work to drive access to and completion (with strong outcomes...not just a piece of paper in-hand) is the "quality" in "high-quality degrees." What would success look like, in your eyes, when it comes to generating a skilled workforce to meet the needs of individuals & the economy? Join us on Twitter (I'm at @LuminaFound & invite you to post or DM me) & share your ideas.

10. walkerst - September 21, 2010 at 03:56 pm

I don't think the goal of more people having a degree or credential (as is specified) is a bad one - if one keeps in mind that this should include trade schools as well. There are fewer and fewer jobs suitable for people with less than a high school education or even with a high school diploma. (While we're at it, can we also do something about high school dropout rates???) That being said, I agree wholeheartedly with 'educationfrontlines'. Grade inflation (already a reality in many situations) is a serious risk, the value of degrees will plummet still further, etc. However, in my view, the worst problem is lack of preparedness of college students, or even college graduates. My people teaching English in college bemoan the poor writing skills or critical thinking skills of many of the students they see. Personally, I also think there's a dreadful lack of research skills. I teach a graduate class at an excellent college, and the other day, I asked my students how many of them had had any instruction in how to use an academic library, and how many of them felt confident that they were able to do research effectively. Not a single student raised his or her hand - for either question. All of them said they found the research process intimidating. These people all had undergraduate degrees, and the majors varied - business, business with a marketing concentration, biology, psychology, communications, etc. Some of them had attended top research universities! That, to me, is dreadfully worrisome.

11. betterschools - September 22, 2010 at 02:49 pm

I understand concern about the potential for eroding performance standards for specific degrees offered in specific venues. I do not understand the arguments against initiatives that promote more education, specifically lifelong education for our citizens. I think it must come from the notion that there is one and only one thing to mean by such concepts as 'higher education,' 'degree,' and 'college,' etc. I suppose as soon as I pick as example, critics will jump in to defend that profession but here goes: I have no problem entertaining the idea that an MBA student at one school will earn a generic MBA containing only a moderate quantitative component while a student at another school will earn a deeply analytical MBA. One of my advanced degrees is in research design, methodology, and statistics. I can tell you that many people hold similar degrees who were required to possess far fewer analytical abilities than were required in my program. Perhaps some of you would have been one of those graduates who couldn't perform at the level required in my program. So what? The only problem I experienced was when I hired people. If their degree had been well labeled, I could have selected employees more wisely.

On balance, I see enormous strength in the inevitable diversity that comes from having 5,000+ independently led and managed colleges and universities. The only concomitant weakness of relevance to this discussion is the lack of transparency. We can fix that. With a little work (we're supposed to be up to these tasks, right?) we could easily add a descriptive tag line to each degree that conveyed its focus and depth in standardized terms in key areas. We need this transparency badly on several levels. It would put an end to the "degree envy" evident in so many of the above comments.

12. sskatz101 - October 06, 2010 at 11:31 am

Unless these students are being trained in science & technology, the training is worthless -- degrees in sociology or ethnic studies are nothing but toilet paper -- those "disciplines" in particular are nothing but socialist indoctrination machines (paid for by hardworking taxpayers) and were instituted so as to make easy college degrees available to students who otherwise would flunk out of anything requiring analytical thinking

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