High school graduation rates are rising across America. The number of young people who graduate each year has increased significantly over the last decade, boosting their opportunities to go on to college, get a decent job, and be engaged members of their communities.
This year’s report to the nation shows that for the third year in a row America is on track to achieve the critical goal of 90 percent on-time high school graduation by the Class of 2020. The greatest gains in graduation rates have come among African American and Hispanic students. Some states and school districts with large numbers of low-income students have made good progress, showing that others can too. The focused and sustained effort by the GradNation campaign’s broad coalition of nonprofit groups, businesses, civic leaders, educators, and public officials is paying off.
Nearly a century ago, a movement that made high school widely available helped lead to rapid growth in the education and skills training of Americans, driving decades of economic growth and prosperity. America thrived in the 20th century in large part because we had the most educated workforce in the world. A quality higher education continues to be the single most important investment students can make in their own futures and that we can make in the future of our nation. But other nations have matched or exceeded the United States’ investment in higher education. Today, more than ever, Americans need more knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a growing global economy without having to take on decades of debt before they even embark on their career.
Today, 35 percent of jobs require a Bachelor’s degree or higher. On average, these jobs pay $33,000 annually at the entry level and $61,000 at prime age. But averages are deceiving. The economic risks and returns to Bachelor’s degrees vary greatly among different majors. For today’s high school graduates, and an increasing share of middle-aged adults who are pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, the decision about what to major in will have critical economic consequences for the rest of their lives
Clear and reliable data are a prerequisite for defining meaningful goals for levels of postsecondary educational attainment and assessing progress toward those goals. Determining whether the number of Americans with college credentials is sufficient to meet the needs of the labor market, understanding gaps in attainment across demographic groups, and evaluating the success of people with different characteristics and in different circumstances in meeting their educational goals all depend on gathering and interpreting appropriate information.
Numerous data sources—most but not all from the federal government—provide valuable information on educational attainment. However, differences in the populations included, the methodologies for collecting the data, and the definitions underlying the categories reported frequently lead to inconsistent findings. This report synthesizes data from multiple sources, clarifies ambiguities, and uses the data to answer key questions about the levels of education among Americans. The questions addressed here are examples of the many that could be answered more accurately with easier access to and better understanding of the available data.
Paying for college is difficult for many individuals and families. College prices continue on an upward trend, wages and earnings for many families have been flat or only have shown marginal growth over the past several decades, and concerns about student indebtedness are on the rise. Taken together, these factors create a challenging environment for individuals seeking financial support to complete a postsecondary degree program.
In recognition of the challenges of paying for higher education, decision-makers at the federal and state levels support college-going with public policy. Through direct institutional allocations, need and merit-based financial aid programs, and the provision of student loans, government policy has provided access to funds to reduce the price of participating in postsecondary education for many individuals. This is particularly true at the state level.
The overall persistence rate for students who entered college in fall 2013 was 1.0 percentage points higher than that of students who entered college in fall 2012, while the retention rate increased by 1.1 percentage points. The persistence rate is the percentage of students who return to college at any institution for their second year, while the retention rate is the percentage of students who return to the same institution for their second year.
Agreat deal of effort across higher education has been devoted to increasing access and establishing the conditions for success by low-income and first-generation students. If American higher education is to achieve the nation’s aspirational goals for college completion, colleges and universities must enroll and graduate far more students from underserved backgrounds than they do today.
In April 2010, six national community college organizations (American Association of Community colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development, League for Innovation in the Community College, Phi Theta Kappa, and Center for Community College Student Engagement) jointly signed an historic commitment to boost student completion by 50%. The participating organizations stated a bold goal for the community college field: “to produce 50 percent more students with high quality degrees and certificates by 2020, while increasing access and quality.” (See “Democracy’s Colleges Call to Action” in appendix A).
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