Giving it the Good Old College Try

Apr 18, 2011 by

It is not easy being a state legislator these days. The sluggish economy has left many of their constituents either unemployed or underemployed. Budget shortfalls combined with long term commitments to health care and pension funds has resulted in significant cuts to government services like K-12 education  and higher education. In these difficult economic and financial times, legislators have rightfully been committed to fiscal restraint, but this has left little room for investing in strategies that will get people back to work and the economy humming again.

As has been our history, it is from difficult times that our most innovative ideas emerge and it appears that in postsecondary education this is indeed the case. In fact, it could be that the current fiscal crisis may result in a renaissance in postsecondary education that will propel states and the nation to economic recovery and long term prosperity.

First and foremost, the evidence continues to mount that increasing the number of citizens in the U.S. with some postsecondary education is the ticket to the middle class. Recent research by Georgetown University has found that  over 60% of those in the middle class have some postsecondary education. In addition, by 2018, 60% of the jobs in the economy will require a postsecondary education.

This research makes it clear that if states can increase their postsecondary attainment rates, there will be jobs  that will increase incomes and create a new middle class. While the goal is clear, the road is long.  Currently only 38% of Americans have some postsecondary education, with many of those who need postsecondary education coming from disadvantaged communities that have been hardest hit by the economic downturn.

As a result, our view of postsecondary education needs to change from something for recent high school graduates, to a critical resource for all Americans to include adults whose jobs have disappeared, Americans in low-wage jobs as well as high school graduates.

Spurring economic growth through increased college completion will require innovative thinking and creative use of resources. Fortunately, there are emerging strategies that legislators can take to leverage limited resources. Research shows that assisting students at critical junctures or “momentum points” during their college experience can significantly increase college completion rates. As a result, there is a movement in legislatures to provide incentives to colleges and universities to more effectively move students from through college in a timely fashion by providing resources to campuses when students pass each momentum point.  The result will be increased college completion rates and effective use of public dollars.

The Boosting College Completion for New Economy initiative of the Education Commission of States is committed to working with state legislators across the nation on how they can propel their states into economic prosperity through innovative investments in postsecondary education. BCC can help your state by:

Visiting your state to demonstrate how strategic investments in college completion can improve your state’s economy.

Inviting the chairs of legislative committees with responsibility for postsecondary education to a series of workshops on how to provide leadership and draft legislation that will increase college completion and spur economic recovery.

Providing critical policy research that will ensure that new legislation is based on sound evidence and proof of success.

We will be reaching out to your states in the coming months and look forward to supporting college completion efforts in your state. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact us if you need our help on how to move the college completion agenda in your state.  You can reach us at .


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