SREB: Graduating One-Third of College Students is not Success
Think very long about an economy that does not have enough highly educated people and you fairly quickly conclude that economy will not be able to sustain itself, much less create real growth. The headline-making message here is, we’re already there, particularly in southern states where college graduation rates are below the national average.
The Southern Regional Education Board has established a bold goal as a first step to turn around this losing formula: 60% of working age adults in southern states should hold an advanced degree within 15 years. SREB President David Spence, whose writings suggest he is both an education optimist and education realist, has said reaching the 60% goal would require “a sea change in state policy and how higher education operates, starting now.”
The 60% advanced degree goal is the major headline from SREB’s new report, No Time to Waste: Policy Recommendations for Improving College Completion. This education white paper discusses the relationship between the workforce we are creating and the workforce we expect to need. It sends a warning: “For the first time, today’s school-age generation in America likely will have proportionately fewer college graduates than their parents’ generation.”
SREB challenged political and learning leaders in its 16 member states to create initial access for more students, improve graduation rates from two-year-and-four-year schools, bring greater focus to career / technical certifications and attract working-age adults back to the classroom.
It also said six-year graduation rates between 52% and 56% for the past decade, four-year graduation rates that rarely exceed 35% and first-time college freshmen dropout rates at 25% should no longer be acceptable.
SREB cited Georgetown University researcher Anthony Carnevale’s estimate that the national economy will need 22 million new workers with associate or higher degrees within eight years. But we already graduate 300,000 fewer per year than the economy needs. Nationally just 37.9% of working-age adults hold post-secondary degrees or career / technical certifications. Thirteen of 16 southern states including Georgia (36.2%) are below the national average.
No Time to Waste focused on changing the approach: “States currently look to public colleges and universities as points of student access – but they must also become institutions of success.” SREB said graduating one-third of college students is no longer an acceptable learning outcome; “This view of college success should become a relic of the past.”
SREB’s recommendations are extensive – several dozen – but the major ideas are found in four categories: Creation of a statewide plan that takes into account all public institutions; Increased access to post-secondary education; Institutional changes that make the degree a priority; and, Increased cost-efficiency that reduces unnecessary credits and streamlines transfer credits.
Among the major recommendations:
** Each state should establish a specific plan that will enable it to reach the 60% goal by 2025.
** Universities, post-secondary leaders and presidents should be held accountable for the goals.
** States should create performance indicators that will be used by all college and universities.
** States should create university funding strategies tied in part to college completion goals.
** Financial strategies should enable more students to complete career certification degrees.
** States should ensure most high school graduates are prepared for college or career training.
** States should ensure working-age adults receive the support they need to return to school.
** States should require that institutions make graduation a primary campus culture.
** Cost-efficiency should be achieved by reducing the number of unnecessary credits.
** States should streamline transfer policies to reduce course duplication and lower cost.
The complete report is available on the SREB website.
Mike Klein writes about education as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
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