Most states are doing slightly better at getting more students to complete either a two- or four-year college degree.
But they’re going to have to really pick up the pace to meet a national goal set for 2020.
The percentage of the nation’s 25- to 34-year-olds with a postsecondary degree rose by half a percentage point, from 38.8 to 39.3 percent, from 2009 to 2010, according to a state-by-state report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The 10-year goal set by President Barack Obama is for 60 percent of Americans in that age group to be college graduates.
In Missouri, the number rose by three-tenths of a percentage point to 39.3 percent, same as the national rate.
“Increasing degree attainment is the first goal of Missouri’s strategic plan for higher education,” said Commissioner of Higher Education David Russell. “We are making steady progress, as the figures indicate, but we still have lots of work to do.”
Russell pointed out that new legislation passed this year should help. It calls for universities to improve remedial education, make transfers more efficient and help those with some college but no credentials attain an associate degree.
Kansas edged up one-tenth of a percentage point to 42.3 percent.
“We know that for our citizens to have access to good-paying jobs in the future and for our economy to flourish, we must increase this number to over 60 percent in the next decade,” said Andy Tompkins, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Board of Regents.
But, Tompkins said, just getting more people to enroll in college isn’t enough. He said the state must better prepare high school graduates for college, provide affordable access and help students make it to graduation.
The United States, once the leader in college-educated residents, now ranks 16th behind countries such as South Korea, Canada, Russia and Japan.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan is to discuss the report today in an address to the National Governors Association. He is expected to call on governors and public college leaders to reel back rising tuition costs that block access to college for some Americans.
In the past year, 40 states, including Missouri and Kansas, have cut funding for higher education. And public universities in both states raised tuition, a trend seen across the country. In the past two years, tuition at four-year public universities has risen an average of 15 percent.
Arkansas has the lowest college attainment rate at 28.6 percent. The state with the highest percentage was Massachusetts at 54.3 percent, although it showed no growth from the year before.