WASHINGTON (October 2, 2012) -- Nearly 490 four year public colleges and universities have pledged to boost college completion by 3.8 million students to help the nation reach the goal of 60 percent of adults possessing a college degree by 2025.
Through Project Degree Completion: A Public University Initiative, the institutions will increase the number of college degrees they award from an estimated 14.6 million to 18.4 million over the next 14 years. Collectively, public colleges and universities currently award just over 1 million degrees annually. The participating institutions are members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU). Their membership represents nearly all the four year public colleges and universities in the country.
“Project Degree Completion is an unprecedented initiative that will drive the instructional agenda of public universities and colleges in the years ahead,” said M. Peter McPherson, president of APLU. “Never before have public colleges and universities, and our two associations, formally come together around such an important and sustained effort. This initiative is an economic competitiveness imperative for the future of the country and the individuals involved.”
The Project Degree Completion pledge is broadly consistent with the efforts of the Obama administration, the Lumina Foundation, the College Board and other prominent educational foundations and postsecondary groups—to enhance the nation’s global competitiveness by ensuring 60 percent of U.S. adults (aged 25 to 64) earn a postsecondary credential. Formerly first in the developed world in the proportion of the population with a college education, today the United States stands 14th in the world.
“Historically our four-year public colleges and universities have been about opportunity," said Muriel Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “Many of our students seek a quality education that offers them the opportunity for upward mobility. That is one of the reasons this commitment is so important. The other reason is that our nation’s future depends on it.”
“There has been significant dialogue lately about the decline of the middle class. Improving degree completion and enhancing earning power is an important component to rebuilding the middle class in this country. Public higher education has a responsibility to be part of the solution, ” she added.
The institutions signing the Project Degree Completion commitment represent more than 80 percent of the combined APLU-AASCU membership and their students are approximately 75 percent of undergraduate students at all four-year institutions.
APLU and AASCU will annually report the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded collectively by four year public colleges and universities during the previous year and the progress toward the 2025 goal using data provided to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Information on proven practices, key partnerships, and innovative programs underway on public university campuses also will be highlighted and publicized.
Part of the institutions’ strategy for achieving the growth in degrees is to “make a concerted effort to reach out to former students who have attended our institutions but who have not earned a baccalaureate degree from any institution.”
The institutions signing the commitment also pledge to continue to “constrain per-student educational expenditures while pursuing enhanced educational quality.” The institutions note that public colleges and universities have limited increases in these expenditures to about the rate of inflation for the past 20 years, even though there has been a significant decline in state appropriations for public education in many states during that period. This is what has “forced public institutions to raise tuition to compensate for the significant loss of state dollars,” the signers say, even though they have kept per-student education expenditures essentially flat.
Other portions of the Project Degree Completion commitment pledge support for student access and diversity; efforts to reduce the average “time to degree” for students; and closer partnerships with elementary and secondary schools and community colleges to prepare students to earn four-year degrees, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Not only are commitments from institutions required, they state, but also “a strong, renewed partnership among the states, the federal government, and public colleges and universities.”
The commitment asserts that “states must provide sufficient appropriations to support students and the discovery of new knowledge,” while the federal government must maintain its “commitment to student financial aid; support for research and innovation; and encouragement of states to continue their support for public colleges and universities.” The commitment also stresses that public colleges and universities must be “more innovative in the performance of their essential roles.”
“In short, the full partnership between public colleges and universities, the states and the federal government needs to be reestablished with each partner fulfilling its responsibilities,” say the institutions signing the Project Degree Completion commitment.
This new initiative has already garnered key support from outside of the higher education community.
Jamie P. Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, said: “We applaud APLU and AASCU for showing such strong commitment to the success of students at public colleges and universities. We look forward to working with these associations and their member institutions as partners in the vital national effort to increase college attainment. With their help — and that of many other organizations and individuals throughout the nation ― we will reach Goal 2025: ensuring that, by the year 2025, 60 percent of Americans have high-quality degrees, certificates or other credentials.”
Business Roundtable President John Engler said: “For the United States to compete in today's complex and rapidly changing global economy, we need to ensure opportunities for students to gain a high-quality education. This new commitment by the public universities and colleges will go a long way toward achieving that goal.”
Download Commitment Growth Rate Charts (pdf)
Download Commitment Statement (pdf)
Download Commitment Statement Background (pdf)
Download FAQ (pdf)
Download Building Our Future paper (pdf)
About the American Association of State Colleges and Universities
AASCU is a Washington-based higher education association of more than 400 public colleges, universities and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development. AASCU members enroll nearly 4 million students.
About the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
Founded in 1887, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is a research and advocacy organization of public research universities, land-grant institutions, and state university systems. As the nation’s oldest higher education association, APLU is dedicated to excellence in learning, discovery and engagement. Member campuses enroll more than 3.6 million undergraduate and 1.1 million graduate students, employ more than 670,000 faculty and administrators, and conduct nearly two-thirds of all university-based research, totaling more than $34 billion annually. For more information, visit www.aplu.org.