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New NGA Chair Targets College Completion

Community college leaders were already encouraged by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III's promise to get success in higher education on the political agenda. He didn't let them down yesterday as he officially became chair of the National Governors Association.

Manchin made good on his promise, announcing that his chair's initiative would be Complete to Compete—an effort focused on increasing the number of students who complete college degrees and certificates from U.S. higher education institutions. His goal: Improve higher education degree attainment rates by 4 percent annually in each state.

The United States has fallen from first to 12th in the world in the number of students who complete degrees, Manchin told the NGA's summer meeting in Boston. The country's current college completion rates are 27 percent for community colleges and 55 percent for four-year institutions, according to the NGA.

Manchin linked concern over the slide to the economy and a need for more educated workers. A recent report showed that two-thirds of all jobs of the future will require at least some college education.

Manchin hopes his initiative will bring together governors, higher education executive officers, campus leaders and corporate CEOs to create a set of common higher education completion and productivity measures to monitor state progress and compare performance to other states and between institutions.

Statistics regarding students completing college are "alarmingly poor" right now, according to the Complete to Compete report. The postsecondary graduation rate compiled by the U.S. Department of Education only accounts for 48 percent of all undergraduates enrolled in four-year public institutions and 32 percent of those enrolled in two-year public institutions. It does not track part-time students, transfer students, low-income students who receive Pell Grants, or students who take remedial classes.

To improve tracking and, ultimately, increase graduation rates, the initiative also will:

- Develop best practices and policy actions governors can take to increase college completion rates;

- Provide support to states to design policies and programs that increase college completion, improve higher education productivity, and serve as models to others; and

- Hold a learning institute for governors' senior advisors in education, workforce, and economic development on successful state strategies to graduate more students and meet workforce demands.

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