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Europe and U.S. Share Vision and Challenge for College Goals

Thought leaders in higher education from the European Union and the United States in Washington yesterday found they had a lot in common when it comes to getting more students to complete college. They share similar outlooks, goals, and challenges.

Both the E.U. and U.S. will face shortages of skilled workers unless there is a significant increase in educational attainment. Both have set concrete goals: The E.U. wants 40 percent of its citizens age 30-34 to have college degrees by 2020. The U.S. aims to have 60 percent of its population with postsecondary training or a degree by 2020. And both are experiencing financial pressures that make attaining these new benchmarks difficult.

The Lumina Foundation for Education hosted the 3rd US-EU Policy Forum that brought about 25 education officials from U.S. and Europe together to discuss areas of potential cooperation. (The Lumina Foundation underwrites coverage of the alignment between K-12 schools and postsecondary education in Education Week.)

"In the world we live in competition is easy; collaboration is hard," said Jamie Merisotis, president and chief executive officer at the Lumina Foundation."The opportunity for collaboration and mutual learning are extraordinary in higher education." Europe has made progress in its credit-transfer system and in other areas that the U.S. can learn from, he said. Merisotis suggested the conversation on educational quality needs to shift from a focus of "who" should be involved to "what"—what it is that students need to learn and the outcomes.

European Commission's Xavier Prats Monne, deputy director-general, said he was struck by how the U.S. and E.U. both have higher education as a priority on the political agenda and are determined to raise completion rates with concrete goals. The main difference, he noted, is that funding for higher education is a burden on the individual in the U.S., while Europe makes more of a public investment.

However, policy, not just money, can make a difference, said Monne. He expressed concern about the relevance of higher education degrees and better matching skills with needs. Just as the U.S. has diversity among its 50 states, the E.U. has variation among its 27 member countries. Monne said the matching of goals is needed at the state level in the U.S. and for individual countries in the E.U.

U.S. Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter offered welcoming remarks at the forum and said the E.U.-U.S. relationship should be leveraged to cement common values and priorities to help the knowledge society evolve in a way that will benefit democracy. "We feel we are building a pipeline of people, but our challenge as a nation is to get those people across the finish line and into the jobs," she said.

Kanter said there was a lot of "synergy" around the 2020 goals for the E.U. and U.S. "Many critics will say our goals are too ambitious; we think not," she said. "We know education beyond high school is essential. ... We've got to have graduates that not only will create new ideas to move us forward as a nation with the E.U. partners that we have, but graduates who are going to solve most pressing problems of the world and our nations—plural."

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