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College Board Releases ‘Scorecard’ Report on U.S. Degree Completion Progress

WASHINGTON – Building on the movement to boost college completion rates in the United States, the College Board on Thursday released a new report meant to be the first “scorecard” in a series of assessments on how well the nation is doing at getting more of its citizens to earn college degrees.

Referring to America’s declining rate of college degree attainment in relation to other industrialized nations as an “education deficit,” Dr. William Kirwan, chair of the advisory committee for the College Board’s Policy and Advocacy Center, said the report and a state policy guide released in tandem with the report could help guide policy-makers in the effort to turn things around.

“We need a scorecard that shows progress toward our goal of increasing college completion,” Kirwan said during a College Board presentation attended mostly by College Board officials, collaborators and Capitol Hill staff members Thursday at the Rayburn House Office Building.

The report, which sets a goal of having 55 percent of Americans earning a post-secondary credential by the year 2025, adds to the growing number of voices in  government, policy and philanthropy circles that are calling for higher college completion rates in the United States.

The report notes how the percentage of Americans with an associates degree or higher stood at 40.3 percent in 2007, placing the nation at sixth in the world, far behind the Russian Federation (54 percent) and significantly behind Canada (48.3 percent) and, to a lesser extent, Israel, Japan, and New Zealand, where the rates are 43.6, 41, and 41 percent, respectively.

The United States lags even further behind other nations—12th in the world—when it comes to college degree attainment for 25- to 34-year-olds, the report states. Historically, the nation has ranked first in the world in postsecondary degree attainment—a status the Obama administration is trying to reclaim with its goal of getting 60 percent of all of America’s citizens to earn a postsecondary degree by the year 2020.

In many ways, the report mirrors not only the Obama administration’s college completion goal but a number of similar efforts that pre-date the Obama administration’s efforts to bolster the nation’s college completion rates.

Most notably, those efforts include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s goal to “double the numbers” of young Americans who earn a postsecondary degree with labor market value by 2020, and the Lumina Foundation for Education’s Goal 2025, which seeks to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials by the year 2025.

One difference is that the College Board report—titled “The College Completion Agenda 2010 Progress Report”—comes with 10 state and national policy recommendations to help make the college completion goal attainable. Some of the recommendations transcend what the Gates and Lumina programs entail.

Those recommendations range from making a program of voluntary preschool education universally available to low-income families to implementing the best research-based dropout prevention programs to providing more need-based grant aid and simplifying the college admissions process.

In the discussion at the College Board event, speakers wrestled with the issue of how to get the new report and state policy guide on college completion into the hands of state policymakers and on the minds of key stakeholders in various sectors, such as business and K-12 education.

They also touched on how to make policymakers see the relevance of the issue from the standpoint of the families that constitute the electorate.

“There is a common political dimension in this country that is centered at the family level,” said former Colorado Governor Roy Romer, who serves as a special adviser to the College Board.

In addition to paying their mortgages and credit card debts and getting and keeping a job, parents are concerned with whether education can equip their children with the skills and knowledge they need to compete in the modern world and enable their children to enjoy at least the same standard of living that they have enjoyed, Romer noted.

“Leadership has to come from states because of the culture of our country, which doesn’t allow the federal government to dictate education policy,” Romer said.

Speakers also dealt with an emergent conversation about the degree to which institutions of higher learning should be held accountable for graduating more students.

Robert “Bo” Newsome, director of outreach and state relations for the National Association of Independent College and Universities, said private colleges and universities are concerned about being over-regulated as the focus intensifies on improving college completion rates.

Noting that private colleges and universities pride themselves on independence and creativity, Newsome said: “We’re always concerned about how we’re going to measure (college completion rates) because there’s all kinds of prescriptive things that follow that.”

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