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Contact: Alan Richard
(404) 879-5544
Released: 4/9/2010

Leaders from 16 States to Gather in West Virginia for Conference on Improving College Degree Completion

CHARLESTON, West Virginia — Leaders from the 16 Southern Regional Education Board member states will join West Virginia Governor and SREB Chair Joe Manchin III on April 12-13 for a major conference on how to improve college degree completion in the region.

The summit — planned jointly by SREB, Governor Manchin and the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission — will bring together Governor Manchin, state legislators, state higher education chiefs and college presidents, education experts and other leaders to discuss state policy recommendations that can increase the number of students who earn a college degree.

SREB states and the national workforce as a whole need more people to complete two- and four-year college degrees — and for many more students who begin studying for these degrees to finish them. College affordability and students’ inadequate preparation for postsecondary education are key factors in the relatively low college graduation rates in many states.

Nationally, about 55 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen in public colleges and universities who pursue bachelor’s degrees actually graduate within six years. The average is 53 percent in SREB states. SREB states’ graduation rates ranged from 37 percent to 67 percent in statewide average rates through 2008.

"This important conference will lead up to a truly historic gathering this summer, when the recommendations will be presented to governors, legislators, state education chiefs and other leaders from SREB states," SREB President Dave Spence said. "Improving degree completion is one of the most important goals for the 16 states in our region. SREB states again will help set the pace for the entire nation."

President Obama has announced a national goal of making the United States first in the world by 2020 in the proportion of adults with college degrees or career certificates. The nation needs about 13.1 million people to complete degrees and career certificates to meet the goal by 2020, or nearly 200,000 additional degrees and certificates each year — an annual increase of about 5.3 percent.

Most SREB states need among the nation’s highest percentage increases to meet the 2020 goal, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Only two SREB states need lower annual rates of increase than the national 5.3 percent rate to help the nation meet the national goal.

Speakers and panelists at the conference will include Governor Manchin, Chancellor Brian Noland of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, Stan Jones of the nonprofit organization CompleteCollege America, SREB President Dave Spence, SREB Vice President Cheryl Blanco, West Virginia University President Jim Clements, Executive Director Richard Rhoda of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, West Virginia State Senator Robert Plymale and many others.

SREB will release a major report at the meeting on 15 four-year public colleges and universities nationwide whose success in raising graduation rates provides models of practices and strategies that work. The report, Promoting a Culture of Student Success: How Colleges and Universities Are Improving Degree Completion, profiles public institutions across the nation, including six in SREB states: Murray State and Western Kentucky universities in Kentucky, Delta State University in Mississippi, North Carolina Central and Elizabeth City State universities in North Carolina, and Sam Houston State University in Texas.

All of the institutions in Promoting a Culture of Student Success rate among the best in the nation for having relatively high graduation rates compared with similar schools, based on criteria developed by SREB. The report also will outline common approaches and strategies that these institutions are using to boost student success for other institutions, university systems and states to use.

For more information about the forthcoming report, contact SREB Communications.

Southern Regional Education Board
592 10th Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30318-5776
(404) 875-9211

For additional information, please e-mail communications@sreb.org