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Report: U.S. won't regain grad lead anytime soon

A new report from the Lumina Foundation for Education says the nation is making scant progress toward the oft-stated goal of regaining the world lead in college completion.

Lumina set a goal in 2008 of increasing the completion rate to 60 percent by 2025. It says it was the first organization to establish this benchmark, which has been taken up in various forms by President Obama and many others.

Available data show that the share of Americans ages 25 to 64 with a two- or four-year college degrees crept up from 37.7 percent in 2007 to 37.9 percent in 2008. At this pace, the graduation rate might reach 46.6 percent in 2025, 23 million grads short of the goal.

Virginia and Maryland fare better than most states.

The completion rate in Maryland is 43.9 percent. The state would have to produce about 4,032 additional grads each year to get to 60 percent in 2025.

Virginia's completion rate is 43.4 percent. The state would need 5,631 additional grads annually to get to Lumina's Big Goal.

The nation as a whole would need nearly 38 million additional degrees in that age group, or about 278,781 a year.

There is much talk within the higher education industry about various sub-populations that might be tapped to yield gains on such a scale.

One is the vast cohort -- one adult in five -- with some college but no degree. The "low-hanging fruit" of higher education, that group includes many former students who could complete some sort of credential with another course or two.

Another is underrepresented minorities. The degree attainment rate lags at 26 percent for blacks and 19 percent for Hispanics. If colleges did a better job with either group, the nation would inch toward its completion goal. (Asian Americans, with a 59 percent completion rate, are the only racial/ethnic group within easy reach of Lumina's target.)

One interesting note: Several counties in the Washington region have already met and exceeded Lumina's graduation goal. Here are the enviable completion rates for several area counties, as cited in Lumina's report "A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education":

Arlington County: 75%
Alexandria City: 67%
Fairfax County:66.1%
Howard County: 66%
Loudoun County:64.5%
Montgomery County: 64.3%

As previously reported in The Post, Washington is surrounded by some of the best-educated counties in the nation.

According to Lumina, the latest international comparison puts the United States at eighth in the world, as of 2009, tied with Belgium and Australia.

Follow College Inc. on Twitter.

By Daniel de Vise  | September 21, 2010; 2:26 PM ET
Categories:  Attainment, Public policy, Research  | Tags:  Lumina report, U.S. graduation rate, college completion, graduation, world lead in college completion  
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