Improving Degree Completion for 21st Century Students: A Federal Role in Credit Transfer and Metro Region Policy

Washington, D.C.—(ENEWSPF)—October 28, 2010.  The Obama administration has set an aggressive goal for the United States to retake global leadership in postsecondary degree attainment by 2020. The president’s goals will require the highly decentralized system of 4,600 colleges and universities to increase productivity dramatically. In two new papers published by the Center for American Progress, the Federal Role in Credit Transfer and Metro Region Policy is explored.

Easy Come, EZ-GO: A Federal Role in Removing Jurisdictional Impediments to College Education

By Brian A. Sponsler, Gregory S. Kienzl, Alexis J. Wesaw

Our nation needs more college graduates to remain competitive in a knowledge-driven global economy. Only 38 percent of the U.S. working-age population—those individuals between the ages of 25 and 64—held a two- or four-year postsecondary education degree in 2008, the last year for which complete data are available, with little evidence the situation improved during the Great Recession. This level of educational attainment is inadequate to meet labor market demands. A recent report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the coming decade, 63 percent of all jobs will require at least some postsecondary education.

Absent significant changes in educational attainment, notes the report, the U.S. labor market will face a shortage of adequately educated workers, a condition that will slow economic development and severely limit productivity gains. With demand for postsecondary skills on course to outpace the supply of college graduates, federal and state policymakers, national education leaders, and prominent foundations are challenging America’s higher education institutions to significantly increase the number of individuals graduating from college. In short, the United States has a college-degree attainment problem—a condition that threatens the nation’s future economic and civic vitality.

Download this report (pdf)

Download the executive summary (pdf)

Degree Completion Beyond Institutional Borders: Responding to the New Reality of Mobile and Nontraditional Learners

By Rebecca Klein-Collins, Amy Sherman, Louis Soares

Governments, nonprofits, and colleges spend significant time and effort each year trying to help more Americans complete college degrees. But as they work to make President Barack Obama’s goal of more college completions by 2020 a reality, a less obvious group of barriers often deters them: institutional policies for academic credit. Many students enter college with learning they gained at other postsecondary institutions, in military training, or in the workplace. But too often institutions do not recognize this learning. The result is wasted time, effort, and money.

The magnitude of this waste is apparent both in terms of individual endeavor and government spending. The average community college student earns 140 credits in the course of pursuing a bachelor’s degree, even though typically only 120 credits are necessary. Those 20 extra credits represent individual time, effort, and money, but they also represent public investment in the form of federal Pell grants and state subsidies to public colleges. All of this adds up to billions of dollars annually once all of the costs of wasted credit are factored in—student-paid tuition dollars, state subsidies to public institutions, student financial aid, and delayed tax revenue when students take longer to access higher-paying jobs that require college degrees.

The problem is that mainstream postsecondary institutions’ credit policies assume that most or all learning relevant to a degree takes place at one postsecondary institution. Colleges and universities make it extremely difficult to transfer learning across institutions by viewing the transfer of credit or the recognition of learning outside the college arena as a fringe activity.

This report describes the avenues that colleges, states, and other organizations take to recognize prior learning and transfer credit, and it points out the flaws in these policies that block students from efficiently garnering credit as they move through and among institutions. It also uses case studies to explore emerging and established examples of colleges and systems that make the most of the learning that students acquire without sacrificing academic integrity or quality. And it suggests best practices and new ways to think about the construction of a college degree by focusing on competencies and other learning outcomes instead of merely credit hours.

Download this report (pdf)

Download the executive summary (pdf)