The Washington Post

Obama urges states to raise college completion rate

It is a truism among certain education advocates that what gets measured gets done.

If they are right, then many states are doing little to advance President Obama’s goal for the United States to move from ninth place to first in the world in college completion by the end of the decade.

So far, only 19 states — including Maryland and Virginia — have set their own targets for raising completion rates. But on Tuesday, the Obama administration hopes to nudge the others into action.

The Education Department is making public its calculation of how much each state must progress to achieve Obama’s 2020 goal, along with some suggestions on “no-cost or low-cost” strategies to boost the number of college graduates.

As of 2009, according to the department, about 39 percent of people ages 25 to 34 had a college degree of some sort. Obama aims to raise that figure to 60 percent. The department estimates that the completion rate for Virginia is 44 percent and for Maryland 45 percent. To reach 60 percent, both states will need to add more than 200,000 young adults apiece to the ranks of college graduates.

Massachusetts had the highest completion rate among states: 54 percent. (For the District, which is of course not a state, the rate was 65 percent.)

Other states have much further to go. Five have completion rates below 30 percent: Arkansas, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and West Virginia. The Texas completion rate is 32 percent.

Suggestions from the feds for boosting the completion rates include: setting goals and making a plan; offering financial incentives to colleges that make big strides; making it easier for students to transfer among colleges; and targeting adults who have some college under their belts but no degree.

Kevin Carey, an analyst with the independent think tank Education Sector, offered this analysis: “It’s a good, comprehensive set of policies aimed at college completion. There’s nothing revolutionary here — but that’s the point. If states just do common-sense things they’re not doing now, like setting goals, tying appropriations to completion, shifting governance away from a narrow ‘funding and completion’ mindset, and adopting best practices ... a whole lot more students will graduate from college.”

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Sleep advice you won't find in baby books
In defense of dads
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
For good coffee, sniff, slurp and spit
How to keep your child safe in the water
How your online data can get hijacked
Play Videos
How to avoid harmful chemicals in school supplies
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease
How to get organized for back to school
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom