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Success With College-Completion Goal Hinges on Helping Minority Students

While progress is being made on the college-completion front, a new report from the Lumina Foundation says more needs to be done to support Latino and black students if the nation is going to meet its "Big Goal" of 60 percent of Americans with some form of postsecondary education by 2025.

The percentage of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 with a two- or four-year college degree was 38.7 percent in 2011, an increase from 38.3 percent in 2010, according to the most recent analysis by Lumina using U.S. Census data. In 2009, the attainment rate was 38.1 percent, and in 2008, there were 37.9 percent of American adults with degrees.

Still, gaps persist.

Among 25- to 29-year-olds, nearly 65.6 percent of Asians and 44.9 percent of white (non-Hispanic) Americans had at least an associate degree, compared with 24.7 percent of blacks, 17.9 percent of Hispanic Americans, and 16.9 percent of American Indians.

Although young people generally are more likely than older Americans to have a college degree, this progress does not hold true for minority groups. Attainment rates for Hispanics or American Indians are lower for the younger generation and about the same among generations of black Americans.

Men are lagging behind in higher education success. In 2011, among all adults (age 25-64) 45 percent of women held a two- or four-year college degree while 40 percent of men did. For younger adults between the ages of 25 and 29, the gap is twice as wide—47 percent of women compared to 37 percent of men.

Ten incremental targets by 2016 were outlined in the report, A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education released today. Among the goals to meet in the next three years included in the report:

• Increase the percentage of Americans who believe a college education is necessary to the nation from the current 43 percent to 55 percent.

• Increase the college-going rate directly from high school to 67.8 percent.

• Increase the higher education rate by Hispanic students to 3.3 million (2.5 million now) and for African-Americans to 3.25 million (2.7 million in 2012).

(The Lumina Foundation also supports Education Week coverage of P-16 alignment.)

UPDATE 6:45 p.m.
During an event this afternoon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Lumina Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Merisotis described the implications of the fourth edition of the organization's signature report and the urgency of the work that needs to be done to improve college completion for all.

"The trajectory is in the right direction. We are happy about that, particularly when you think about the fact that these data are largely from a recessionary period in our economy," he said. "It is a good sign that we saw this modest pickup in attainment, but clearly that level of attainment and the trajectory, the straight-line path doesn't get us where we need as a country."

The shortfalls in college success by race and income highlighted in the report point to the need to redouble efforts to narrow those gaps. Increasing attainment is the best way to get a more talented society that drives democracy and quality of life, said Merisotis.

"If you think about low-income, first generation, minority, and adult populations, what we have in that definition is America's largest growing population, and frankly, the future of our country in its truest sense," said Merisotis. "Our collective well-being will rest on our ability to do dramatically better for all of those groups and our failure to achieve greater success for those groups will come at our collective peril."

Beyond awareness, Lumina is working to mobilize key actors including students, policymakers and educators, to do something about broader college access and completion. Specifically, Merisotis called on higher education to improve by redesigning broken student finance systems, developing better business and finance models on campuses, and getting serious about enhancing the quality of degrees.

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