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Adults with 'some college' key to Obama's graduation goal

An estimated 37 million American adults ages 25 to 64, or about one-fifth of the working population, started college but never finished.

With President Obama pushing for the nation to regain the world lead in college completion by 2020, it's not surprising that the research community is beginning to pay more attention to the "some college" crowd. In terms of reaching the president's goal, they are the low-hanging fruit. It's a group some had previously ignored.

"It's really sort of morally objectionable to write off everyone over 30," said Jamie Merisotis, CEO of Lumina, in a recent interview at The Washington Post.

The Lumina Foundation Wednesday announced a $14.8 million, four-year effort to support 19 projects around the nation that have found different ways to help adults find their way back to college and finish their degree.

The Indianapolis nonprofit projects the programs together will reach 6.6 million adults with basic information about how to complete their degrees. If all of them did, the nation's goal would be met. Lumina officials expect that at least 100,000 of them will return to school, and 45,000 will complete degrees.

Lumina has set its own goal, separate from but parallel to the president's, that America attain a 60 percent college completion rate by 2025. There is fairly broad consensus that meeting any such goal will require the combined efforts of several sectors in higher education: community colleges, state universities, independent colleges as well as the for-profit colleges.

The single biggest share of the funds, $1.3 million, will go to the Institute for Higher Education Policy in the District to expand a pilot project called Win-Win to 35 institutions in six states to identify adults who are near completion of associate degrees -- a comparatively modest goal -- and remove barriers to degree completion.

Some students have attended community college and have enough credits to graduate, but no credential. For them, college completion is a matter of mere paperwork.

"For some of them, life just gets in the way," Merisotis said.

He believes community colleges need to focus more on completion; many institutions have degree and certificate rates in the single digits, far below the comparable statistics for four-year colleges.

Among the participants are six Virginia community colleges, including Northern Virginia Community College, an institution that has been recognized as a national leader in two-year college completion.

Follow College Inc. on Twitter.

By Daniel de Vise  | September 29, 2010; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  Attainment, Community Colleges, Public policy  | Tags:  2020 college graduation initiative, 2025 college graduation initiative, Lumina completion, Lumina graduation, Obama graduation initiative  
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