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Getting to Graduation

The Completion Agenda in Higher Education

edited by Andrew P. Kelly and Mark Schneider

Publication Year: 2012

The United States, long considered to have the best higher education in the world, now ranks eleventh in the proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree. As other countries have made dramatic gains in degree attainment, the U.S. has improved more slowly. In response, President Obama recently laid out a national “completion agenda” with the goal of making the U.S. the best-educated nation in the world by the year 2020. Getting to Graduation explores the reforms that we must pursue to recover a position of international leadership in higher education as well as the obstacles to those reforms. This new completion agenda puts increased pressure on institutions to promote student success and improve institutional productivity in a time of declining public revenue. In this volume, scholars of higher education and public policymakers describe promising directions for reform. They argue that it is essential to redefine postsecondary education and to consider a broader range of learning opportunities—beyond the research university and traditional bachelor degree programs—to include community colleges, occupational certificate programs, and apprenticeships. The authors also emphasize the need to rethink policies governing financial aid, remediation, and institutional funding to promote degree completion.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Over the past five years the nation has undergone a fundamental reordering of priorities in higher education policy. Previously concerned primarily with access (getting more students through the doors), political rhetoric...

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pp. 1-13

American higher education, which has long regarded itself as the best in the world, is in the midst of a dramatic and unprecedented increase in expectations. In his first State of the Union address, in 2010, President Barack Obama...

Part One: The Challenges

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pp. 15-70

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1. Increasing Higher Education Attainment in the United States: Challenges and Opportunities

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pp. 17-47

Over the past decade, the traditional policy focus on increasing access to higher education has been supplemented with much greater attention to improving the chances that students complete their degree— the completion rate. Even more heartening, debates...

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2. Graduation Rates at America’s Universities: What We Know and What We Need to Know

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pp. 48-70

At first glance, it may seem relatively straightforward to meet President Obama’s goal that “by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”1 After all, the United States led the world...

Part Two: The Performance and Potential of Sub-Baccalaureate Programs

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pp. 71-153

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3. Can Community Colleges Achieve Ambitious Graduation Goals?

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pp. 73-101

Over the past decade, the completion agenda has swept through the world of higher education policy and practice. According to this agenda, access to and opportunity for enrollment are no longer adequate: not only must colleges...

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4. Certificate Pathways to Postsecondary Success and Good Jobs

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pp. 102-125

In this chapter I argue that the United States faces a decline in the educational attainment of the labor force that will reduce economic growth and limit national prosperity. We will not be able to halt this decline or reach national postsecondary attainment...

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5. Apprenticeships as an Alternative Route to Skills and Credentials

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pp. 126-153

Concern about the rising cost of a college education, the growing need for remedial and developmental education among first-time college students, and low persistence and graduation rates among the most at-risk college students has prompted...

Part Three: The Relationship between Policy and Completion

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pp. 155-222

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6. Financial Aid: A Blunt Instrument for Increasing Degree Attainment

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pp. 157-174

Higher education is a gateway to economic mobility, and as the returns on college degrees have increased over time, so too the demand for higher education has increased among every socioeconomic group. Yet, after years of emphasizing...

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7. Remediation: The Challenges of Helping Underprepared Students

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pp. 175-200

Although nearly three-quarters of high school graduates eventually go on to higher education, many are not prepared for the college curriculum. Research suggests that only 32 percent of all students leave high school ready to study...

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8. Equalizing Credits and Rewarding Skills: Credit Portability and Bachelor’s Degree Attainment

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pp. 201-222

"College for all” has become a mantra of policymakers and foundations alike. In his first speech to a joint session of Congress in February 2009, President Barack Obama pledged: “We will provide the support necessary for you to complete...

Part Four: The Lessons from Three States

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9. The Challenge of Scaling Successful Policy Innovations: A Case Study of Three Colorado Community College System Grants

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pp. 225-245

The relationship between educational attainment and economic competitiveness is a familiar topic in the national discourse, one that has taken on a new sense of urgency within the context of the growth in global competition...

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10. Efforts to Improve Productivity: The Impact of Higher Education Reform in Texas

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pp. 246-268

Texas is a reform-minded and action-oriented state where change occurs on a very large scale: today, Texas is home to 1 in every 12 U.S. residents.1 In 2010, there were over 1.4 million postsecondary students enrolled in the state’s colleges and...

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11. The Ohio Experience with Outcomes-Based Funding

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pp. 269-292

National, state, and institutional leaders are setting goals for higher education to improve productivity, promote student success, and ensure accountability.1 These recurring and now consistent calls for change tend to direct...

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pp. 293-312

Two years after President Obama announced his ambitious plans for higher education, a “completion agenda” has taken root in state governments, foundations, and colleges across the country, all of which have made large financial...

List of Contributors

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pp. 313-319


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pp. 321-335

E-ISBN-13: 9781421406930
E-ISBN-10: 1421406934
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421406220
Print-ISBN-10: 1421406225

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 8 line drawings
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Education, Higher -- Aims and objectives -- United States.
  • Education and state -- United States.
  • Educational change -- United States.
  • Educational attainment -- United States.
  • College graduates -- United States.
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