In order to stay competitive regionally and globally, states have been pushing for more residents to earn a college degree or certificate.
It's an initiative that has been picking up steam across the country, as free-two-year college programs grow and colleges work on closing achievement gaps -- all in an effort to get more college credentials into the hands of America's workers.
Texas has become the latest state to join the college completion agenda. Last month the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted a new goal for 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the state to hold a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030. Currently, only 38 percent of Texans between those ages have a degree. The initiative matches a similar law that was passed in the state in 2013.
"The goal is to re-establish higher education as an engine of social and economic mobility in Texas," said Raymund Paredes, the state's commissioner of higher education. "We'll make an argument for increasing investment in higher education, improving efficiencies, and students have to get through as quickly as possible. It'll be a shared responsibility model."
The plan, known as 60x30TX, guides the state toward having at least 550,000 students each year earn a certificate, associate, bachelor's or master's degree by 2030. As of 2014, the state was producing nearly 300,000 graduates annually.
Paredes said there are a number of examples of initiatives underway within Texas's colleges and universities that will help achieve that goal. For example, he points to developmental education reforms at the state's community colleges. That plan calls for expanding corequisite courses for developmental students, as well as competency-based programs to help adult students. The corequisite approach allows students who require remediation to take a college-level, credit-bearing course while also receiving instructional support.
According to the Lumina Foundation, which has set a national college completion goal, 32 states have developed official plans for increasing the number of adults with degrees or certificates. President Obama also created a national goal in 2009 for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world, a challenge which would require at least 8 million more degree holders.
While setting goals is a good start for getting a better-educated workforce, the foundation encourages each state, college and university to develop real plans for reaching that benchmark.
The Foundation set its own goal six years ago, seeking to boost the national college completion rate to 60 percent by 2025. This year, the foundation said 40 percent of working-age Americans had attained a two- or four-year degree as of 2013. Last year, the rate was at 39.4 percent. Both the Lumina and Texas goals include certificates, not just degrees.
"We've never said that states should adopt Lumina's goal," said Dewayne Matthews, vice president of strategy development for the foundation. "We think that's a good national goal. But frankly, some states are going to have to be higher than 60 percent if the nation will reach 60 percent. A state like Massachusetts, given the economy they've got, they should be shooting higher if they really want to maintain their economy. D.C. is already at 60 percent and they should be thinking higher as well."
According to Lumina, Massachusetts has set a goal of 60 percent attainment by 2020. Others states have looked to go higher. For example, Oregon has a "40-40-20 percent" by 2025 goal -- meaning that the goal is for 40 percent of residents to hold a bachelor's degree, 40 percent to hold associate degrees and 20 percent to hold high school diplomas.
California wants 2.3 million more adults to earn degrees and certificates by 2025 to remain economically competitive.
Researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California predict that the state will need about one million more adults with bachelor's degrees, but "we're not on track to close that one million shortage we identified," said Hans Johnson, a senior researcher on higher education at the institute.
"It's on the track of the status quo and that wasn't sufficient, so we're not on track to meet the [workforce] demand," he said. "But there's been a notable increase in immigrants coming to California who already have a college degree. A very large increase in highly educated immigrants from India and especially other Asian countries like China. When we think about the labor market supply and demand, it's not just what our universities are producing."
Immigration will certainly have an impact on the attainment numbers for certain states like California. At current rates, between now and 2025, Matthews said, about 3.3 million people will enter the U.S. with a college degree.
"It's a surprisingly large number … that will in fact help us and contribute to overall increases in attainment," he said. "But we also receive large numbers of immigrants without postsecondary degrees, and finding ways for them to have a real pathway to a postsecondary education is a real challenge. It's necessary for them to get the opportunity to have a middle-class job and advance to become true citizens. We believe postsecondary education is a near necessity for that."
But it is concerning to hear that states like California haven't made real progress on reaching its goal, he said.
A recent report from the Campaign for College Opportunity found that only 16 percent of California's 15 million Latino residents have an associate degree or higher.
"You have to close the gaps in attainment for racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation [students] and other underrepresented groups," said Matthews. "You're not going to get anywhere near the goals if you try to squeeze more traditional, college-ready students through the system."
He points to Tennessee and Kentucky as good examples of states that have an awareness of their regional economies and took a number of steps to boost attainment by embracing the completion agenda and moving toward more performance- and outcome-based funding measurements.
"One impressive thing about Tennessee is this consistent focus and effort has been sustained through changes in governors and changes in the government party," Matthews said.
Lumina has been working with some states to focus on their specific needs, whether it's increasing attainment with immigrants, first-generation students or minorities, and then helping them create quantifiable targets to reach their overall goals, said Kelly Porter, an organizational performance officer with the foundation.
In Texas, Paredes and other higher education officials have already identified what may be the largest challenge in reaching their 60 percent goal -- the large number of incoming freshmen at Texas's colleges and universities who are unprepared for the rigors of higher education.
"We have to dramatically increase the number of kids coming out of high school in Texas that are college ready," he said. "If you look at the numbers published by ACT and other organizations, the numbers are very challenging."
According to ACT, 26 percent of Texas high school graduates met ACT's benchmarks that determined college readiness across all subjects. The ACT is administered in Texas more widely than any other college-readiness assessment.
"The number or percentage of poor kids who are college ready in Texas is much lower than that. Over 60 percent of kids in K-12 Texas schools are poor, so we have a long way to go in proving college ready," Paredes said. "We have to do a better job in higher education in making certain we send trained and competent teachers into K-12."
It's the responsibility of the community colleges and universities to be more active in professional development for teachers, so they help the teachers understand clearly the expectation for kids coming out of high school, he said.
|Lumina Foundation, national goal||60%||2025|
|Illinois||60% -- 25- to 64-year-olds||2025|
|Kentucky||37% -- associate or higher, 25- to 54-year-olds||2020|
|Louisiana||42% -- bachelor's, associate, certificate and diploma, with annual growth rate of 7.2 percent||2025|
|Massachusetts||60% -- 25- to 34-year-olds with college degree||2020|
|Michigan||60% -- "high-quality skills training, a degree or credential"||2025|
|North Carolina||32% and 37% bachelor's degree or higher||2018/2025|
|Tennessee||55% -- associate degree or higher||2025|
|Texas||60% -- credential, certificate or degree||2030/2036*|
|Utah||66% -- 25- to 64-year-olds with postsecondary degree or certificate||2020|
|Virginia||55% -- 25- to 64-year-olds with an undergraduate degree||2025|
|Washington||70% -- postsecondary credential||2023|
*Texas legislature and governor set goal for 2036, higher education board for 2030
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