17 States Pledge to Significantly Increase College Completion by 2020. Carnegie Corporation, Other Major national foundations join forces to make college completion a national imperative

Washington, D.C., March 2, 2010 — Signifying their intent to take the bold action necessary to increase college completion rates, 17 states have joined with Complete College America to dramatically increase the number of young adults with a college degree or credential.  The states have agreed to set degree goals, develop and implement action plans to meet those goals, and collect and report student outcome data on progression toward the goals. 

Adding to the states’ commitment, several national foundations have joined forces to provide $12 million in initial funding for a new nonprofit organization, Complete College America, to work with states.

Unchanged for decades, the rate at which Americans complete postsecondary degrees falls woefully short of the nation’s needs and potential.  Less than forty percent of young adults hold an associate or bachelor’s degree, and substantial racial and income gaps persist.  According to labor market projections, by 2020, six of ten jobs will require a quality postsecondary degree or credential.  Therefore, to ensure their success, six of ten young Americans ages 25 to 34 must achieve this basic threshold.  States must lead the way, adopting strategies and practices that will increase college completion.

Established in 2009, Complete College America supports states to implement a range of strategies that will bring needed change to improve completion.  Five national foundations are providing multi-year support to Complete College America, including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Lumina Foundation for Education.

The 17 states in the Complete College America Alliance of States have committed to significantly increasing the number of students successfully completing college and closing attainment gaps for traditionally underserved populations.  States in the Alliance are:

Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.

To join the Alliance a state — in partnership with its colleges and universities — must pledge to make college completion a top priority and commit to:

  • Setting state and campus-specific degree and credential completion goals;
  • Developing and implementing aggressive state and campus-level action plans for meeting the state’s completion goals; and
  • Collecting and publicly reporting common measures of progress toward completion goals and closing attainment gaps.

“Tennessee has launched aggressive efforts to improve degree completion rates out of the recognition that our economy hinges on our ability to develop a more skilled workforce,” Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen said. “Every state knows what’s at stake if we don’t do better, and this Alliance will play an important role in ensuring a quality education is available to future generations. I’m pleased Tennessee has the opportunity to become even more involved in this effort by joining this coalition to fight this growing problem.”

Alliance states will receive in-depth technical support from America’s leading experts on improving college success, including assistance in building consensus for reform, developing policy action plans, guidance on applying for and effectively using federal funding to produce more degrees, and annual networking opportunities. 

“From flagship universities to open-access regional universities and community colleges, state colleges and universities serve over 75 percent of the nation’s undergraduate students,” said Jones.  “Strong state leadership is critical to ensuring that two- and four-year colleges and universities act with urgency to increase college completion.  In the seventeen Alliance States, we’ve seen that type of leadership on this critical national issue.”

Comments from Complete College America’s foundation partners

“Knowledge transcends borders, as does creativity and the ability to think deeply and analytically about issues that affect all humankind.  In an increasingly globalized world, a high-quality education that leads to a college degree is the key to developing these skills. Hence, we must not only increase college completion rates, but we must ensure that a college degree stands for quality.  Let us remind people that democracy and excellence are not mutually exclusive.  Our hopes for preserving a vibrant democracy and the promise of social mobility that lie at the heart of the American dream depend on more students earning their college degrees.” — Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York and former President of Brown University

“Low graduation rates for all low income Americans and for racial and ethnic minorities in particular put all of us at risk. Our country cannot thrive if more than half of our young people are structurally unprepared to participate in our now boundaryless global economy.” — Luis Ubinas, President, The Ford Foundation

"The Alliance states, facing unprecedented fiscal challenges, have made an historic commitment to higher education and, more importantly, to the students and communities that will directly benefit from this work.  For some states, this is an early or first step in addressing completion issues and for others it’s a continuation of lots of hard work and focus on student success.” — Hilary Pennington, Director of Education, Postsecondary Success and Special Initiatives, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

“Parents are children’s first and most important teachers and improving the educational level and economic status of low-income parents is directly linked to improving outcomes for vulnerable kids. It is imperative that there are more resources dedicated to increasing post-secondary education and training. The Kellogg Foundation is pleased to support Complete College America and we look forward to seeing their work expand in other states.” — Anne Mosle, Vice-President for Programs, W.K. Kellogg Foundation  

“Now is the time for students, two and four-year colleges, and states to redouble their efforts to increase the number of Americans who complete college.  The economic, educational and societal benefits are too great to not take action.  To do so, our states – the primary investors in and overseers of our nation’s public colleges – must dedicate themselves to finding solutions that work.  The 17 Alliance states have taken an important step that will help identify those solutions.” — Jamie P. Merisotis, President and Chief Executive Officer, Lumina Foundation for Education