Pa. among states focusing on raising graduation rates

17 states vow to get more college degrees

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Seventeen states including Pennsylvania have resolved to significantly raise college completion rates by 2020, something a group spearheading the effort called critical to America's economic future.

The states' inclusion, announced by Complete College America, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit group, will require each state to set goals and a strategy to meet them, as well as report student outcome data to demonstrate progress.

Citing U.S. Census data, Complete College America says that nationally, 38 percent of adults 25 to 34 years old have a college degree. That share ought to be 60 percent by 2020, given projections that 6 in 10 jobs by then will require a college education, though states are free to set their own targets, the organization said.

"Good family incomes and the health of state economies depend on more of our young people succeeding in college," Complete College America's website stated.

"We're also looking to close the [graduation] gap for low income and minority students," said Stan Jones, the organization's president.

His group cited data showing 60 percent of white students enrolled full-time on four-year campuses finish a bachelor's degree within six years, compared to 49 percent for Hispanic students and 42 percent for African-American students.

In Pennsylvania, 43 percent of adults 25 to 34 have a two-year degree, bachelor's degree or higher, above the national average but a sizable distance from the Rendell administration's hope of reaching at least 60 percent.

The governor said despite progress, the state's degree attainment is still "woefully short" of need. He will form a group including educators, business leaders and others to set a precise target and hone strategies, said Michael Race, state Education Department spokesman.

Varied factors affect college success, from student demographics to financial aid policies. In Pennsylvania, cost and student preparation likely will be among key impediments examined, Mr. Race said.

Complete College America shared federally reported data showing wide disparities in graduation rates between, and within, tiers of public and private four-year campuses, and two-year schools. The rates were for first-time, full-time students finishing within 150 percent of a program's expected duration.

In this state, highest among four-year public schools listed was Penn State University's main campus, at 85 percent, while its branch campus rates ranged from 78 percent at Penn State Harrisburg to 36 percent at Penn State Brandywine.

Among four-year private schools, rates listed ranged from 95 percent at the University of Pennsylvania to 31 percent at Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.

Public two-year college rates listed on the organization's site ranged from 56 percent at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology to 3 percent at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Support for the initiative is coming from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation for Education.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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