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Mind the Gap
Lumina Foundation sets 10 new degree attainment goals for 2016 while decrying growing racial and ethnic gaps.
The percentage of adults who will hold a college degree in 2025 is projected to hit 48 percent, far short of what is needed to reach the Lumina Foundation's 60 percent goal for degree- and certificate-holders. So to stay on track to achieve that “big goal,” the foundation today announced a set of 10 incremental targets to hit by 2016.
Those short-term goals will use a 2012 baseline, Lumina said in its fourth annual status update on college completion, which the foundation released today. While broad in scope, the new targets focus to some extent on black and Hispanic students, as well as working adults (see box).
“We’ve got to mobilize the country about targeting those populations,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, the foundation’s president.
That’s partially due to a degree attainment gap across racial and ethnic lines that Merisotis called “shockingly wide and unacceptable.” Even worse, that gulf is widening.
The numbers in the new Lumina report, which are based on 2011 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, show that young Americans who are Asian or white are far likelier to hold a college degree than are their black or Hispanic peers.
Among 25- to 29-year-olds, for example, 66 percent of Asians and 45 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans held at least an associate degree, compared to only 25 of black and 18 percent of Hispanic Americans. Just 17 percent of American Indians held a degree.
Over all, young people are more likely to hold a college degree than are older Americans, the report said. But that is not the case for people from minority groups. Young Hispanics and American Indians are less likely to hold a degree than are their older peers, and the attainment rates for black Americans are flat across age groups.
Complicating the achievement gap is the growing gulf between women and men, the report found, as young men now lag far behind young women in degree completion.
“We are all diminished as Americans by an education system that effectively rations postsecondary opportunity based on people’s skin color, income or family status,” Lumina said in the report. “Not only will the nation fall short of the attainment levels it needs unless these gaps are closed, the fact that the gaps exist must be rejected on moral grounds, given the increasingly severe consequences of not obtaining a postsecondary credential.”
As a result, the foundation today set a goal to boost college-going numbers for blacks and Hispanics. Lumina’s 2016 target is for 3.25 million black Americans to be enrolled in college, up from 2.7 million in 2012, and for 3.3 million Hispanics to be enrolled, an increase from 2.5 million in 2012.
Getting Working Adults to Graduation
Lumina is the deepest-pocketed foundation with a focus solely on higher education. Its push on college completion, led in tandem with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has influenced state and federal lawmakers as well as public discourse.
The foundation was formed with the proceeds of the 2000 sale of the nation’s largest private education lender, USA Group, to Sallie Mae. Its assets now top $1 billion.
Last year Lumina announced new strategies for how to spend $300 million over the next four years. They focus on building a social movement, targeting metropolitan areas and encouraging innovations based on student learning and competencies rather than the credit hour.
The targets released today by the foundation mirror some of those priorities.
Lumina Foundation's 2016 goals and 2012 baseline numbers
55 percent of Americans believe increasing college attainment is necessary (up from 43 percent)
67.8 percent of students attend college directly from high school (62.5 percent)
1.3 percent of older adults are first-time college students (1.1 percent)
3.3 million Hispanic students are enrolled in college (2.5 million)
3.25 million black students are enrolled in college (2.7 million)
22 million students are enrolled in college (18.1 million)
800,000 fewer working-age adults have some college but no degree (currently 36.3 million)
60 percent of first-time, full-time students complete college within six years (54 percent)
48 percent of adult students complete higher education (42 percent)
3 million associate and bachelor’s degrees are awarded annually (2.5 million)
For example, Lumina will keep tabs on public opinion about degree completion. Currently 43 percent of Americans believe that college attainment is necessary to the nation, according to a Gallup poll. Lumina’s goal is to boost that to 55 percent by 2016.
The foundation’s overarching goal includes "high quality" certificates as well as degrees. Certificates are increasingly valuable to job seekers, studies have found. But data on how many students are earning them has been lacking.
However, according to recently released research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, an additional 5 percent of adults -- on top of the estimated 40 percent with degrees -- hold a certificate with “significant economic value,” the report said.
Even without adding certificates, degree attainment rates are headed in the right direction, increasing from 37.9 percent in 2008 to 38.7 percent in 2011. But to really make a dent in the 60 percent goal, Merisotis said many more working adults will need to earn degrees.
Lumina is shooting for 800,000 working-age adults with some college credits under their belts but no degree to get to the finish line by 2016. And the new goals include a target for 48 percent of adult learners to complete college, compared to 42 percent in 2012.
The foundation supports emerging forms of higher education, like competency-based programs or those offering credits for prior learning, which could help boost the number of adults with college degrees. Merisotis said urgency has been lacking for the “system redesign” that is needed for substantial numbers of adult students to earn meaningful credentials outside of the traditional classroom.
While massive open online courses have gained plenty of public attention of late, Lumina is not specifically looking at them as part of the college completion mix. Merisotis said the courses are part of broader advances in online learning.
“Lumina’s view is that MOOCs are one change in the continuum,” he said.
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