- More than 40 states have attainment goals and strategic plans to achieve them, but they vary in their ambition, progress so far and prospects for long-term success, according to a new report from Ithaka S+R.
- Massachusetts and Colorado have the highest attainment rates across all types of postsecondary credentials, while Oregon is the most ambitious with a goal of having 80% of its residents earn at least an associate degree or career-related certificate by 2025.
- From 2005 to 2017, the national attainment rate increased by 5.1 percentage points, though the report notes that it's difficult to assess whether the increases are due to a push from the states or external factors.
At the center of this effort is the Lumina Foundation, which has a goal of 60% of American adults holding some form of postsecondary credential by 2025. States have generally followed suit, though not all in the same way.
Ithaka's report examines some of the nuances in how each state has approached those goals. That's expected given each one's unique social, educational and economic structures and workforce needs.
Maryland, for instance, determined that a more educated population will draw businesses seeking a high-skilled, high-wage workforce. As such, it focused on increasing the number of bachelor's and associate degrees, rather than certificates.
Meanwhile, New Mexico set targets for K-12 and higher ed, and Rhode Island established "targeted and comprehensive strategies" to close equity gaps across K-12 and postsecondary education.
Other states, including Alabama and Oklahoma, are focusing more directly on workforce training, and Alabama incorporated K-12 and higher ed attainment goals. Tennessee is approaching its goals through a public-private partnership with Nissan and the state chamber of commerce.
Across the board, state attainment goals so far tend to be weighted toward bachelor's degrees. As one caveat, and reflective of the challenge to fulfilling these goals, several states' plans focus on residents in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Regardless of structure, the report notes, "preliminary evidence suggests that many states may have difficulty meeting their goals." The Education Trust this year expressed a similar concern, particularly in connection with minority attainment.
Disparities in who enrolls and completes college have resulted in degree attainment gaps between white adults (47%) and black (30.8%) and Latino (22.6%) adults, the Education Trust report shows. Boosting minority degree attainment will be critical to addressing workforce needs, yet some states have only vague intentions in place to address equity gaps.
It's hard to assess the effect goal setting has on attainment. However, three states that are among the half dozen with the lowest degree attainment rates — Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia — also are among the eight states that have not established goals. Meanwhile, the five states with the highest degree attainment rates — Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, New Jersey and Virginia, all have goals of at least 60% attainment.