Momentum for Higher Education Attainment Is Accelerating–Can it Be Sustained?

Glasses-and-Mac 2

A new report from Lumina Foundation (client) finds that the nation is quickening its pace for postsecondary attainment. A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, an annual state-by-state assessment of attainment beyond high school, reveals that 39.4 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2012 – a 0.7 percent rise from 2011.

That’s the largest year-over-year increase since 2008, and it’s evident that there’s a demand – a hunger, really – for higher education. According to a recent Gallup/Lumina poll, three out of four Americans now believe a postsecondary credential is imperative for a better quality of life. Even more telling: 89 percent of Americans think that higher education needs to change to better meet the needs of 21st century students.

The importance of higher education has never been more widely recognized, but it’s also a time in which almost all assumptions about how the system operates are on the table. So how can we satiate – and ultimately, sustain – the hunger for higher ed?

The report identifies three key areas of opportunity:

American attainment lags behind other countries, and we must double down our efforts to keep up with the global race for postsecondary skills.

While the Stronger Nation report finds that attainment is improving nicely here at home, our results are anemic when considered in a larger global context. According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. ranks a disappointing 11th in global postsecondary attainment.

What’s especially troubling is the attainment rate among young people – the best predictor of future success. Just 41 percent of young Americans complete college compared to 64 percent in South Korea and about 60 percent in China and Japan. The big takeaway here: although the US has made modest gains in moving the attainment needle, our numbers are being dwarfed by other countries in the global race for higher education, and to keep up, we need to continue to nurture a culture of completion – especially within Generation Y.

A fundamental redesign of the higher education system is underway, and influencers must continue to push innovative policies centered on student learning.

Change is never easy, and for a system entrenched in decades of tradition, it can be unsettling. But several states and institutions are boldly embracing innovative approaches like online education, open courseware and basing funding on student outcomes rather than enrollment. Lumina says that in order for the redesign effort to be successful and sustainable, it must meet three basic requirements:

  1. Postsecondary credentials, including degrees, should be based on demonstrated student learning and competency, rather than seat time.
  2. Students should have smarter, guided pathways to a postsecondary credential, knowing what to expect on the road to completion.
  3. Higher education must be accessible and affordable to all who need it.

Redesign is essential because our society, our economy and our students are changing, and it’s imperative for institutions to validate learning that’s obtained in nontraditional settings like the military or the workforce. All of these elements will help drive attainment forward, but significant regulatory and financial barriers must be addressed for them to reach their full potential.

Attainment gaps must be closed for the students of tomorrow.

The U.S. adult population will look markedly different in 2025 – and in order to create a sustainable higher education system for tomorrow, we have to address the stubborn attainment gaps that exist today. As the nation’s population becomes more diverse, increasing the higher education attainment of underrepresented groups becomes all the more critically important. Not only should we aggressively close attainment gaps with regard to racial and ethnic groups, but we should address the absence of low-income and first-generation students in the higher education system as well. Without confronting these inequities, our good progress in improving postsecondary attainment is a wash.

The bottom line:

In order to achieve  Goal 2025 – the pledge that 60 percent of American adults will hold some form of postsecondary credential or degree by 2025 – policymakers, higher education officials, employers and constituents will not only need to do a lot more to capitalize on the hunger for higher education, but also take the necessary steps to overhaul our higher education system into one that’s student-centered, affordable and willing to harness a growing spirit of cooperative innovation. The goal is big, but it’s never been closer in our grasp.

 

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Momentum for Higher Education Attainment Is Accelerating–Can it Be Sustained?

Glasses-and-Mac 2

A new report from Lumina Foundation (client) finds that the nation is quickening its pace for postsecondary attainment. A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, an annual state-by-state assessment of attainment beyond high school, reveals that 39.4 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2012 – a 0.7 percent rise from 2011.
That’s the largest year-over-year increase since 2008, and it’s evident that there’s a demand – a hunger, really – for higher education. According to a recent Gallup/Lumina poll, three out of four Americans now believe a postsecondary credential is imperative for a better quality of life. Even more telling: 89 percent of Americans think that higher education needs to change to better meet …

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