Lumina Foundation: US Still Short on College Degree Attainment


According to the Lumina Foundation, the American workforce will be short 20 million college graduates in ten years despite the increasing college graduation rate.

Research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce indicates that two-thirds of jobs in 2020 will require post-secondary education, but only 40% of working-age adults had degrees in 2013. This is up from 37.9% in 2008, but incremental increases like these are not enough to keep up with demands.

The Lumina Foundation is an organization dedicated to increasing the proportion of Americans with college degrees. It launched its Goal 2025 Initiative in 2009 to increase adult college attainment to 60% by 2025. The foundation believes it’s possible, but will require drastic changes to the educational system.

President and CEO of the foundation Jamie Merisotis said:

We have just 10 years to reach it, and our current pace of progress is insufficient for meeting employers’ workforce needs and addressing the growing inequality issues we face as a nation. For America to truly prosper– for the nation to attain, not just individual opportunity and economic security, but social justice and cohesion– an increased sense of urgency is needed to expand college success dramatically, and in all directions.

The Obama administration wants America to have have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, a distinction the country hasn’t had since 1990.

There are several reasons that America isn’t meeting expectations.

One is racial gaps: 44.5% of white adults attained college degrees, but only 20.3% of Latino/a adults did the same. People of color and other underserved groups like first-generation students and low-income students are the focus of the initiative. According to Madeline Will of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Merisotis said of minority bolstering:

Equity is such an important, cross-cutting issue in all of the things that need to be done. We’re at a time in our history when we need to make clear that Latino, African American, Native American attainment is about our collective well-being in the country– not simply a matter of social justice for those groups.

The rates of enrollment and completion have decreased, but this isn’t all bad, as it can be partially attributed to an improving economy that encourages students to leave school to enter the workforce. 22% of working-age adults have some college credit but no degree. Researchers believe about 15% of that group will achieve their degree in the next decade.

Another reason is that credentials and certificates, many of which are offered by community colleges, aren’t included in census data. This could boost the attainment rate by 7%. Allie Bidwell of US News quoted Merisotis:

We need to reflect the importance employers place on these credentials by valuing them more as a society. The good news is that the US Census may begin reporting data on certificates as early as next year. And we are working with numerous organizations to develop a strong national system of post-secondary credentials that allows all high-quality learning beyond high school to count.

The Lumina Foundation’s prescription for the problems are to redesign the system of financial aid and to increase focus on student needs and cooperation.