New Report Finds Modest Gains in Illinois, America’s College Attainment Rates

Experts highlight bright spots while calling for redesign of America’s higher education system

WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–March 26, 2012.   Lt. Governor Sheila Simon joined education experts in the nation’s capitol today to announce the findings of a new report that shows Illinois and the nation must do significantly more to ensure gains in higher education attainment. Experts gathered at the Rayburn House Office Building to announce the report’s findings, highlight what is working and discuss how a stronger sense of urgency is needed to better position America for success in the knowledge economy.

“It is a critical time for higher education in Illinois,” Simon said. “We need more students to complete college on time and with degrees and credentials that are relevant to the workforce. Education is the key to maintaining our competitive edge in the global economy.”

According to the report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, 38.3 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2010. That rate is up from 37.9 percent in 2008. Illinois is slightly ahead of the nation, with 41.3 percent of working-age adults with an associate or bachelor’s degree in 2010, up from 40.8 percent in 2008.

The report measures progress toward Goal 2025 which is a national movement to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.

The Stronger Nation report shows that if we continue on our current rate of production, only 79.8 million working-age Americans (46.5 percent of those aged 25-64) and 3.27 million Illinoisans (49.3 percent) will hold degrees by 2025. Since this will leave us more than 23 million degrees short of the national 60 percent goal, the need to rapidly accelerate degree attainment levels is clear.

“More people are graduating from college, but the current pace is not sufficient,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of Lumina. “America is grappling with how to grow jobs, skills and opportunity, and this report highlights the economic imperative of getting a postsecondary degree. This issue can’t be wished away by fanciful talk about higher education ‘bubbles’ and whether college is worth it. Education is the only route to economic prosperity for both individuals and the nation. That should matter to policymakers. It should matter to business leaders. And it certainly should matter to our education leaders.”

Adopting Attainment Goals

Heeding this call, Illinois has adopted Goal 2025 and is committed to measuring progress. Lt. Governor Simon currently is proposing a Complete College reform package that would require higher education institutions to report annual performance metrics in a standard consumer report card. She is also backing bills to smooth transfers from community college to university and boost college and career readiness in math.

Lumina Foundation has selected Simon to represent Illinois in its Postsecondary Productivity Strategy Lab sites. The Strategy Labs provide policymakers in 22 states technical assistance on Lumina Foundation’s “Four Steps to Finishing First” reform agenda. The steps include performance funding, student incentives, new learning models and business efficiencies.

“The Goal 2025 movement provides the direction that our states, colleges and universities need to increase graduation rates and connect students to good jobs,” Simon said. “Our work with Lumina and partner states will lead to a more educated and prosperous Illinois.”

Numerous other states, cities, business groups and higher education institutions have also set attainment goals.

“We will lose our competitive edge as a nation if we don’t recommit ourselves to advancing educational attainment,” said Mick Fleming president of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. “In many ways, the business community determines the market value of education through the jobs it creates. So it is essential for chambers and employers to play a key role in this endeavor.”

Redesigning Our Higher Education System

In a recent Gallup-Lumina Foundation poll, the vast majority of Americans said that they believe economic well-being is tied to holding a college degree. But there are barriers to moving the country to a 60 percent attainment rate. Many state universities and community colleges face both financial constraints and a lack of space.

A majority of Americans in the Gallup-Lumina poll also raised concerns about tuition increases and questioned whether college and universities are able to deliver the job-relevant learning that is required today. These realities have experts increasingly exploring ways to focus on productivity and quality in the system.

“We must do more to transform higher education so we can achieve the higher levels of attainment that are required for global competitiveness,” said Merisotis. “We must figure out how to better align workforce needs with all kinds of postsecondary credentials, particularly for the large number of adults who find their job skills are less relevant in today’s labor market. Likewise, we simply cannot reach the Big Goal without addressing the considerable equity gaps in this country. Students of color are an integral part of the 23 million, along with low-income students, first-generation students, and returning adults. A Stronger Nation reports attainment data disaggregated by race and ethnicity to underscore Lumina’s commitment to equity, as well as the social and economic reality that the goal represents.”

What is Working?

According to the Stronger Nation report, 39.3 percent of young adults (ages 25-34) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2010. That is a full percentage point higher than for all adults and a good leading indicator of where attainment rates are headed. In 2008, young adults ranked below the adult population as a whole.

“America’s youth are running faster in the race to college but not keeping up with skill and employer demand on the job. Currently, even in the great recession, supply is growing by one percent and demand is growing twice as fast,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The report also shows modest degree attainment gains from 2008-2010 across U.S. adult populations groups. The rates as of 2010 include: Asian (59.36 percent), White (42.96 percent), Black (26.84 percent), Native American (22.83 percent), and Hispanic (19.21 percent).

The top five states for college degree attainment as of 2010 are: Massachusetts (50.54 percent), Colorado (45.98 percent), New Hampshire (45.85 percent), Connecticut (45.84 percent) and Minnesota (45.79 percent). Illinois is ranked 15th. The top five metropolitan areas, ranked by degree attainment, are the Metropolitan Statistical Areas of: Washington, D.C. (54.37 percent), Boston (54.01 percent), San Francisco (52.91 percent), Minneapolis (50.06 percent), and Seattle (47.97 percent). Chicago is ranked ninth.

Detailed data arrays in the report show degree attainment percentages at the national, state and county levels. For the first time, Lumina Foundation offers– in addition to state- and county-level data–data on attainment in the 100 largest metropolitan areas and offers insights into what can be done to accelerate achievement across the country.

“We know that local business leaders and employers will be key partners in reaching the Big Goal and this is one of many steps we are taking to ensure these leaders have the tools they need to affect change,” said Merisotis.

Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college—especially 21st century students: low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners. Lumina wants to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: by identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change. For more information, log on to