More College Grads Could Mean Billions for U.S.

  • April 27, 2012
  • By Ben Wieder

If states don't improve their college graduation rates, it could cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars, according to findings released yesterday (April 26) by the Center for Law and Social Policy and the Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

The report looked at college “attainment” rates, or the percentage of 25 to 34 year olds with at least an associate's degree. Top degree-producing countries, such as Canada, South Korea and Japan, are on pace to achieve 60 percent college attainment rates by 2020. That's also the goal set by President Obama. While numerous hurdles exist before achieving that goal, the report says that if the U.S. doesn't meet the 60 percent target by 2025, it could cost the country $600 billion in lost tax revenue and increased spending on Medicaid and prisons.

Reaching the goal will require the federal government to maintain support for programs such as Pell Grants, which give low-income students scholarships, and states to invest more in higher education and better track which sectors of higher education are most successful in producing grads.

Massachusetts, North Dakota and New York are currently best poised to achieve the 60 percent goal by 2025, according to the findings. Each states needs to increase college attainment rates by 1.5 percent or less over the next 13 years. Nevada and Alaska have the farthest to go. Each would need to improve its rate by more than 8 percent each year to meet the target. An interactive dashboard released with the report shows the cost and benefit of maintaining current degree levels or improving them.

While that 60 percent goal might be out of reach for some states, Patrick Kelly, a senior associate at the Center for Higher Education Management systems, said that states could achieve more progress by setting specific attainment targets and tying higher education funding to meeting completion goals.

“If you put the money where you want the results,” Kelly said, “it should, over time, happen.”

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