Gov. Martin O’Malley urged Maryland’s higher education leaders Tuesday to spur innovation to ensure that more students get through college with a degree.

(Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

In a meeting of public and private college officials at Morgan State University in Baltimore, O’Malley (D) said that college is becoming more accessible to all classes of students but that too many fail to obtain a credential.

State data show that 45 percent of Maryland adults ages 25 to 64 have obtained at least an associate’s degree, a figure O’Malley wants to raise to 55 percent by the middle of the next decade. The rate has inched up from 44 percent in 2007.

“We’ve done a much better job of getting people to college,” O’Malley told the educators. Now, he said, the challenge is to “get people through college and to completion.”

The governor said colleges should look to the Internet and redesign courses to find more ways to speed students toward diplomas. He cited the online-focused University of Maryland University College as a prime example of digital experimentation. “We have a great model here,” he said — UMUC.

In an interview, O’Malley said of UMUC: “I like them. They have harnessed the power of the Internet in order to accelerate higher levels of learning. They’re doing it in a global way.”

He suggested that his agenda for higher education this year will focus mainly on degree completion. That could be a bit of a shift.

In previous years, college access has been the governor’s drumbeat, as O’Malley and the legislature have provided enough funding for state universities to freeze tuition for several years and then to cap tuition increases at 3 percent.

He said that colleges need to rethink the traditional ways in which students take four, five or six years to attain a bachelor’s degree.

“Most people are far more concerned about their children’s ability to earn than they are about the manner of how they learn,” O’Malley said.