White House Unveils “Tools” To Boost College Graduation Rates

ABC News' Mary Bruce Reports: After falling dramatically behind other countries in college completion rates, President Obama is eager for the U.S. to catch up and reclaim the number one spot by adding an additional eight million college graduates in the next eight years. Today the White House unveiled new competitive grants and a set of "tools" to help states reach the president’s 2020 deadline.

“Right now we’ve got an education system that works like a funnel when we need it to work like a pipeline,” Vice President Joe Biden said at a “Grad Nation” summit in Washington today where he unveiled the “ College Completion Tool Kit,” a 23-page document that offers seven strategies for boosting college completion.

The suggestions in the “tool kit” include aligning high school standards with college entrance requirements, making it easier for students to transfer between colleges, and targeting adults that have completed some college level courses, but never received a degree.

To implement these strategies, which Biden described as “no-cost and low-cost suggestions,” the administration is calling on all governors to hold college completion summits. “Secretary Duncan and our entire education team are ready to go, get in a plane and go, to the individual summits that governors hold to be any help we can possibly be,” Biden said.

The administration is also offering a new “Comprehensive Grant Program,” which will provide $20 million to colleges to implement plans to increase graduation rates.

In addition, the administration proposed $173 million in competitive funds as part of its 2012 budget. The $123 million “First in the World” initiative would support programs that increase completion rates, hold down tuition and accelerate learning. States can also apply for the $50 million “College Completion Incentive Grants” which would reward states for reforms that produce more college graduates.

Currently, the U.S. ranks ninth in the world in a four-way tie for college completion and only 42 percent of young adults in the U.S., ages 25 to 34, have a college degree. To reach the president’s goal by 2020, 60 percent of young adults will need to complete college, meaning the U.S. will have to add an additional 8 million college graduates in the next 8 years. Biden explained that the goal “can’t be an aspiration. This is a necessity.”

Biden stressed the economic importance of increasing the number of college graduates in the U.S. “A high school diploma is no longer a ticket to the middle class,” he explained. “Without a diploma… you’re at a dead end.”

According to the Vice President more than half of all new jobs created over the next decade will require a post secondary degree.

“The best jobs and fastest growing firms, whether in biosciences, technology, manufacturing, trade or entertainment, will gravitate to countries, communities and states with a highly qualified workforce. In order for America to lead the world, every governor will have to lead the way at home,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during his opening remarks at the summit on Monday.

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