A Call to Action on College Completion

Vice President Biden

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Grad Nation Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park, in Washington, DC, March 22, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann).

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

College access and affordability has been a key area of focus for the Middle Class Task Force over the last two years.  On this blog, we have frequently updated you on our Administration’s commitment to expanding student aid through Pell Grants and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Providing every American child with the opportunity to go to college is critically important, but we can’t stop there.  We need more American students to graduate from college. The President has set a clear goal: By 2020, America will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  Right now we are ninth.

70 percent of students go on to pursue some kind of postsecondary education after high school, but less than half actually get a degree or certificate within 6 years.  Why is this so important? Because more than half of all new jobs created in the next decade will require a postsecondary degree.  And college graduates make more money and are less likely to be unemployed than individuals with only a high school diploma.  Ensuring that more students graduate from college is essential to maintaining a strong middle class.

Today the Vice President challenged every Governor to host a state college completion summit, and promised that the Department of Education would help any state develop a plan to boost completion.

The Vice President also announced the release of a new “College Completion Tool Kit,” produced by the Department of Education.  The tool kit includes information on seven low-cost or no-cost strategies that states can use to boost completion.  For example:

  • Aligning high school exit standards with college expectations.  Forty percent of college students have to take remedial classes in college.  It makes college more expensive, because it takes more time to finish.  And it increases the likelihood students will dropout in college.
  • Making it easier for students to transfer.  Two out of three students transfer at least once.  Arizona, for example, helps ensure transfer students don’t fall through the cracks by making sure introductory course credits transfer fully among all public colleges in the state.
  • Linking state higher education funding to levels of or improvement in college completion.  Right now, the vast majority of colleges get funded based on enrollment numbers, not success.

Finally, the Vice President announced that the Department of Education is launching a new grant competition to reward colleges that come up with innovative plans for boosting completion, like summer academic boot camps for students between high school and their freshman year; redesigned courses that make learning more interactive; and emergency financial aid for unexpected crises. We are looking for plans with the potential to become national models.

As the Vice President said today, “right now we’ve got an education system that works like a funnel when we need it to work like a pipeline. We have to make the same commitment to getting folks across the graduation stage that we did to getting them into the registrar’s office.”

Brian Levine is Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President


  1. I have a daughter that has attended and HBCU for 5 years, during this time courses were never available, very high turn over of professors. During this period she is now required to pass at state exam in order to graduate during this time they make her take class that she does not need just so that they cna get money all she needs is 17 intern hours to graduate. Tell me what can she do all she wants to do is graduate please help.

  2. Speaking of Degrees and transfers, I am in limbo now, waiting for the admissions and transcript evaluation experts to comb through my courses completed. I’ve had to send copy after copy of official transcripts because “they never received” one or more of my records. Even though I’ve sent all trascripts by mail, hand delivered in person and follow up, copies by fax, they still keep losing pieces of my info. They never seem to answer their phone, return calls, and literally hide in their glass towers.

    I find this model more than menacing. These employees are so inefficient and incompetant, why not hire someone capable of providing real service? There are vast pools of unemployed people ready and willing to fill these jobs. Why must we accept such inept service??

  3. Hi Iam a No Worker Left Behind client sense 2009 -Presently attending Wayne County Community Colleage when I lost my job due to this failing economy, I made the effort to go back to school I would like to thank President Barak Obama and Governor Jennifer Granhorm for making it possible for me to go to college . My only concern is that I finish it is critcal that I earn my degree as a Social Worker for the benifit homeless disadvantage children and families in my community( including me and my two son’s ) who are struggling with Homelessness. Due to cut backs at WCCC my chance of following thourgh do to lack of classes and lack of staff has disrupt my ability to get classes for this summer 2011 on line and off line , I have been denied the oppurtunity to transfere my credits to WSU, BSW program, even though I was excepted. I have over 30 cr and was refered by WCCC Registrat as being in good standing and given the seal of approval to transefer for this summer. I was told NWLB would not allow my funds that I receive to be transfered which has cause me undo stress and strain in getting my degree I so deserve .

  4. Some steep restrictions that four year colleges put like when you transfer from a two year college to a four year college they don’t accept some courses because they are categorized as lower-level courses. This demoralizes students especially those who need an undergraduate degree form a four year college.

  5. There should be a depreciation factor included for an obsolete education just like there is for equipment. What equipment still works 25 years later without maintenance? The education you get after college we could refer to as “maintenance” but the equipment is long since depreciated. Student loans should work like that and we should be able to write depreciation off in our taxes and get a tax credit for continuing our maintenance education.
    There must be some out of the box thinking and creativity left in Washington. It’s not brain surgery. You want an educated workforce who then graduates to becoming a spending and contributing member of society? Drop the interest rate to zero, eliminate loans after 10 years and be done with it. Just do it.
    The rest of the economy will fall into place. Releasing the oppressive debt on young people who then grow long white beards before finally paying off their debt is the number one solution to stimulating this economy.

  6. This sounds good but if the colleges are not buying into it, it doesn’t matter. Down south the plan is to prolong a young adults educational process until they are exhausted then kick them out without their degree. There needs to be a physical check on the colleges and universities to ensure they are really, encouraging our young adults to complete a degree and not just placing them in programs of studies to boost numbers when there is no course plan to be able to complete that program at that school.

  7. @Dennis
    “Obama’s plan is nothing more than selling degrees regardless of whether anything is taught or learned by anyone. It’s the numbers he can put on a piece of paper that he cares about. People learning anything doesn’t even cross anyones mind. The US Department of education should be ashamed of the job they do with the education system in this country.”

    I agree whole-heartedly. Why is it that the people in charge of decision making for our schools are politicians? I understand that they should, and that is the operative term in this sentence, have our students’ best intentions in mind, as they are elected officials. But, as it is, the real policy makers are the men and women with the most money.

    Why use logic to solve a problem when there is money to be made?

    But, Dennis, “It’s the new slave age. The head of the US department of education should resign. He is worthless to this country. Just another slave owner stealing a paycheck and giving nothing in return.”
    May not be true. I don’t see slavery in this system, just ignorance and stupidity.
    There are plenty of on-line degree programs that offer excellent programs. It takes some research and time to find them, but if an excellent on-line education is what you are looking for, it exists. Good luck!

    Education is a sticky field – there are no simple solutions. Simply throwing money at the problem just makes an expensive problem. Truly worthy research into the field usually dies at the research stage, because the solutions this type of research present are usually quite difficult. There is plenty of discussion (necessary), with little follow-through on the discussion.

    What we need is someone who is not afraid to spit in the face of special interest groups as well as the politicians. We need someone who will lead by example, not by pontification (says the anonymous human who is doing exactly that).

    Along these lines, we also need someone who is not afraid to spit in the face of lazy parents. I understand that parents have multiple obligations during the day, and are quite busy. But, I also understand that a parent’s first obligation should be to his/her child. If you do not want the burden placed by children, or do not have time for them, please do not have children. A small amount of self-control today can make sure that you can avoid poor-choices for your own life, and poor-outcomes for your childrens’ lives.

    The problem with education in America is the same as the problem with pretty much everything else in America. No one wants to take responsibility for fixing the mess. I can not blame those in charge, either; any reform they implement is hobbled from the beginning, simply because of the cooperation required from uncooperative individuals.

    What it will take is for our students to start studying abroad at higher rates than they are seeking advanced degrees here. When we finally fail, and miserably fail, we will change. The problem is that only those wealthy enough will reap the benefits of a decent education, while the poor will stay in their place.

    Money is the motivator, and stratification of the classes is the outcome. The boot-strap theory died at the start of the technology age. Education is supposed to be the great equalizer. In America, any student – regardless of background – can succeed because of their high-quality, and equal-for-all education. Correct?

  8. I’m in an online degree at a catholic university outside of Chicago. It’s the third university I have tried for distant learning. They are all the same. You pay 400.00 to 500.00 per credit hour for a class and there is absolutely no teaching going on. You get a book and they assign you pages to read and questions to answer. This doesn’t work with math and accounting. When we pay 400 to 500 dollars per credit hour, we are paying someone to lecture and give lessons but we are getting none of this.

    Obama’s plan is nothing more than selling degrees regardless of whether anything is taught or learned by anyone. It’s the numbers he can put on a piece of paper that he cares about. people learning anything doesn’t even cross anyones mind. The US Department of education should be ashamed of the job they do with the education system in this country. Why are there no Standards that instructors must teach, and students must learn?

    As for Deb. Tell your daughter to get a job teaching distant learning. She too can steal a paycheck and not have to teach anything in return. This is what the government is all about. Stealing paychecks at taxpayers expense. It’s the new slave age. The head of the US department of education should resign. He is worthless to this country. Just another slave owner stealing a paycheck and giving nothing in return.

  9. @Unimportant

    Incentive in this case seems to me to be a means of separating the haves from the have nots. I think incentive allows political negligence and shifts blame to those that need help. We should not incent in this way because we will be neglecting areas that suffer from a socioeconomically disadvantaged public. Incentive is the same thing as immediate gratification as far as our current zeitgeist is concerned; that is to say we are a people of immediate gratification and incentive feels good.

  10. @tony
    That is the type of classist thought that pervades society today.
    They should get it, simply because I get it. Is that correct? What about the single mother who is forced to drop out, simply because her dead-beat partner decided it was time to leave?
    What about the poor farm kid who comes from a family where education is not valued?
    What happens when he leaves for college? How can that student survive when he feels family pressure to come home, because nothing can be more important than the family surviving this year?

    @Everyone else
    Why do we insist on incentivizing absolutely everything? In my humble opinion, basing funding on degrees conferred will only market schools like The University of Phoenix.

    What are smaller community colleges, who take everyone, regardless of ability or effort, supposed to do? We can accept the students, and we can offer them all of the help we can, but at the end of the day, it is their choice.
    When is the state goign to figure out that they can not, and should not control every aspect of our lives? This isn’t meant as a psychotic, paranoid statement. It is meant as a simple statement.
    Where did basic-level, common sense go? Why do we need regulations on where a child can ride in a car? Shouldn’t the parents be able to figure that out?
    Why should the state mandate that our schools score X on a standardized test?
    Shouldn’t our schools have enough room to work that they can do what’s best for their students?
    And shouldn’t those that have feel obliged to help those that don’t? And shouldn’t that happen without the government being involved?

  11. What a colossal waste of taxpayer money. University’s should be survival of the fittest. Congratulations to
    Yolie. but in Texas even with a GED he is considered a dropout.

  12. I am taking personal development course in commubity collage and my proffesor gave us a lot of valuable information and as i was doing my online reserch i found ED.GOV web and it answer a lot of my qiestions like how am i going to pay for collage? why should i go to collage? and other similar questions. I am the first person attending to collage from my generation and as i am typing tears are comming out my eyes because i am very happy and very proud of my self. As i was growing up i did have the change to go to school, but when i was 46 years old got my GED and now i am going to go to collage thanks to you. Thank you

  13. How is funding colleges based on graduation any better than rewarding schools for enrollment numbers? How long is it going to take before such funding adversely effects the quality of graduates?

    Remedial students where I live are dropping out because of the environments they are faced with at our local college. The settings that cause remediated students to dropout are more akin to enrollment numbers being rewarded than the failure of the students to meet exit standards based on college expectations.

    Concern with funding is necesarry, but in both cases, funding graduation rates or enrollment numbers, is aversively reinforcing the undesired results.

  14. @ deb.
    We could use some good teachers here in Florida. Our senate seems to have the status quo at priority. Our Governor Scott can’t make some changes because of our comfort level. I did not vote for him but I understand he’s preparing for some fallout that can be correlated to a federal stimulus package that we received here in Florida. He’s been accused of not choosing to replace those stimulus funds.

    He’s been left holding the bag. The stimulus allowed us to spend more money than we could have on our own without it. I believe Governor Scott realizes we can not spend what we do not have, not in good conscience, in my humble opinion. Is your Governor stuck in a similar position? There’s always the private sector.

    The term, private sector, is neither pajorative or honorific, just a suggestion, one that I don’t consider accessible for my children as students. I hope whatever choice your daughter makes, she teaches as an end result.

  15. what kind of words of wisdom can i give to my daughter who is entering the education college program in the fall and now is questioning her decision to be a teacher in the state of wisconsin due to gov walkers budget …..her major is art and psychology and wants to be a high school art teacher…i am not sure what to tell her at this point…other than to follow her dream in a different state..

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