Young adults are making modest gains in college completion, but fall short of President Barack Obama’s goal of having the U.S. tops in the world in the percentage of college graduates, according to government figures.
Data released by the U.S. Department of Education showed 39.3 percent of young adults (ages 25 to 34) in the country had earned an associate, bachelor's or graduate degree in 2010, a half-percentage point increase from the previous year.
Figures were released ahead of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s address to the National Governor’s Association in Williamsburg, Va., on Friday.
Duncan will call on governors and colleges and universities to rein in spiraling college tuition costs, one of the roadblocks to earning a degree, according to prepared remarks.
"We've made some progress, but the combination of deep state budget cuts and rising tuition prices is pushing an affordable college education out of reach for middle-class families," Duncan says in the remarks. "As the president has said, the countries that out-educate today will out-compete us tomorrow. The federal government has done a tremendous amount to increase the amount of aid available to students. But we need states and institutions to meet us halfway by doing more to keep college costs down."
Cost of tuition at four-year public universities jumped by 15 percent between 2008 and 2010, a rise fueled by state funding cuts, according to the department. The department also cites 40 states as having to slash higher education spending in the last year.
Reviewing the government's state-by-state figures, Montana claimed the biggest percentage increase in young college graduates, rising from 37.1 percent in 2009 to 40.3 percent in 2010.
According to The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet, Montana mines its success with a no-nonsense approach:
Montana started its push to churn out more degree-holders by bolstering its system of two-year colleges. Like other states, it had to overcome perceptions that two-year colleges are little more than trade schools for students whose grades aren’t good enough to go to four-year universities — a matter made worse in Montana, where many of them were, in fact, vocational high schools before being transformed, in the mid-1990s, into so-called “colleges of technology.”
Washington D.C. had the highest percentage in 2010 on the list, 68.8 percent. The state with the highest percentage was Massachusetts, with 54.3 percent, unchanged from the year before, however.
Obama wants the U.S. to lead the world in the proportion of college graduates by the year 2020.
The United States ranks 16th in the world, trailing South Korea, Canada, Japan and Russia, according to The Associated Press, citing a 2011 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The AP reports:
To meet the president's goal, an estimated 10 million more Americans ages 25 to 34 will need to earn a two- or four-year degree.
The data released Thursday shows most states will need to make dramatic leaps in order to meet the goal of having 60 percent of the nation's young adults with a college degree.
In Florida, there were 816,946 adults ages 25 to 34 with a post-secondary degree. That number will need to increase to at least 1.48 million. In New York, the number will need to rise from 1.3 million to 1.67 million.
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