Progress report: The College completion agenda



Recently, members of the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center completed a progress report in conjunction with the College Completion Agenda Advisory Committee detailing the recommendations needed to reach an unprecedented educational goal.

The goal was set forth by the Board’s own Commission on Access, Admissions, and Success in Higher Education, which originally convened in 2008, in response to a sharp decline in educational attainment by Americans.  There were three main areas of decline identified by the commission:

    1. A sharp drop in college and high school completion rates
    2. Rates of American adults with post secondary education was lagging behind other industrialized nations
    3. Significant educational achievement disparities were present in minority and low-income students.

    An Extremely Ambitious Goal
    After the commission’s analysis and report, a decision was made to set clear educational objectives in order to improve educational attainment.  Their ambitious goal is to “increase the proportion of 25- to 34-year olds who hold an associate degree or higher to 55 percent by the year 2025.”

    The commission worked to create a set of ten critical recommendations that must be undertaken to achieve the goal.  Once the recommendations were made, the commission then made the decision that benchmark measurements taken on a regular basis was the only way to discover whether or not the recommendations are working, and even whether or not they are being implemented.  The Progress Report is the second aggregation of information regarding the commission’s ten recommendations:

    1. Provide voluntary preschool education to low-income families that are universally available.
    2. Make improvements to counseling services at the middle and high school levels.
    3. Lower dropout rates by implementing research-based dropout prevention initiatives.
    4. Create a K-12 educational system nationwide that is in alignment with international standards and college admission expectations.
    5. Teacher quality improvement with a focus on recruiting and retention.
    6. Make the admission process easier to understand.
    7. Simplify the financial aid system: make it more transparent and provide more need-based grants.
    8. Keep the cost of college affordable for all.
    9. College completion rates must improve “dramatically.
    10. Adult education programs must include postsecondary educational opportunities as an essential part of their makeup.

    The economy has had a tremendous impact on many of the results reported in the progress report.  With the economic downturn, thousands of layoffs of teachers and college professors have had a sobering impact on the goals of the commission.  America’s world standing in post secondary education for adults continues to decline, with completion of at least an associate’s degree among all 25 to 34 year olds declining by .5 percentage points between 2008 and 2009.  When broken down by racial groups, all groups except whites declined:


    However, there is also good news to report. 45 of 50 states have adopted “common core standards” in both mathematics and language arts.  This commonality will provide a standardized framework for college admission, regardless of which state a student resides in.  Many states have begun to enact evaluation systems that tie student performance to teacher pay and retention; this trend has become especially prevalent since the economic downturn.

    More work needs to be done, and governments at local, state, and the federal level must work in conjunction with one another to reverse the trend of declining college completion.