ATLANTA — Nearly 40 members of governors’ and legislative staffs from across the Southeast gathered for their annual meeting sponsored by the Southern Regional Education Board on October 7-8, where they heard SREB President Dave Spence and other leaders call for the 16 SREB states to lead the nation in improving the numbers of college degrees and technical certificates that students earn each year.
"With many states’ economies struggling, it was especially important for state officials to share ideas and learn from each other this year. Even with budget shortfalls, the work to improve education remains one of the region’s most important priorities," said Gale Gaines, SREB’s vice president for State Services. Her staff at SREB works with state legislators and their staffs — and other leaders — to provide information and guidance on many education policy issues and legislative action across the region.
Many SREB states are facing budget deficits and further cuts to K-12 and higher education because of declining state revenues. For the most recent state budget and legislative developments in SREB states, see SREB’s Legislative Reports at www.sreb.org/page/1172/latest_legislative_reports.html.
Spence described "an urgent need" for states to ensure that many more students complete college degrees and career certificates in the coming years. Spence called for immediate major policy changes in SREB states that will lead to many more students graduating from college and technical training — a critical factor in strengthening the work force in the changing economy, he said.
SREB Vice President for Special Projects Cheryl Blanco discussed SREB’s important new report, No Time to Waste: Policy Recommendations for Improving College Completion, a roadmap for states to improve college completion. The report sets forth an ambitious goal: that by 2025, 60 percent of the SREB region’s adults ages 25 to 64 will have a college degree or technical certificate. The report outlines steps states can take to improve students’ college readiness, college transfer policies, financial aid, campus practices to help more students succeed, accountability, efficiency and more. Blanco also pointed to some public four-year colleges’ relative success in completion rates, outlined in SREB’s report Promoting a Culture of Student Success: How Colleges and Universities are Improving Degree Completion. The reports are online at www.sreb.org.
College tuition and fees continue to climb in SREB states, said Joe Marks, SREB’s director of Education Data Services. Average annual tuition and mandatory fees for public four-year colleges was $5,389 in SREB states for 2008-2009, ranging from $3,771 in Louisiana to $8,400 in South Carolina. The national average was $5,805. Families’ percentage of income required to pay for college annually also has risen dramatically in the nation, particularly for students from lower- and middle-income families, he said. The average debt for graduates of public four-year colleges in 2007-2008 was $18,000 in SREB states, he said.
The average college-affordability gap in SREB states is $5,840, even after tax credits, Pell grants and expected family expected contributions, Marks said. With tuition and fees increasing as state funding growth is restrained, family financial limits may be a growing barrier to college participation and completion.
A key to improving college completion will be bringing more adults who earned some college credit but no degree back into college, said Bruce Chaloux, SREB’s director of Students Access Programs and Services. He told the state officials of SREB’s new $800,000 grant from Lumina Foundation for Education to create TheAdultLearner.org, which will be a leading national resource for adults who wish to finish their degrees, building on SREB’s existing Electronic Campus, which already provides access to some 30,000 online college courses and 1,000 degree programs. "States cannot improve college completion without bringing adults back to finish their degrees in strong numbers," Chaloux said.
Many states are making progress on high school graduation rates, prekindergarten access and other areas covered by the SREB Challenge to Lead Goals for Education, but more work remains — especially in graduating more students from high school and ensuring more of them are well-prepared to begin college and career training, said Joan M. Lord, SREB’s vice president for Education Policy. Follow this link to check your state’s progress on the SREB education goals: www.sreb.org/page/1334/state_reports.html. .
Officials also heard how low-level, vocational track diplomas emerging in some states are the wrong approach. One solid diploma for all is a better way, said SREB Senior Vice President Gene Bottoms. A single statewide diploma keeps more kids on track for college and technical training, and it doesn't track students from the start, he said. In addition, officials learned of SREB’s major new project with states to create new, academically rigorous career/technical courses in biofuels, green energy and many other fields. Each state will create a series of courses in such fields and then share the courses with the other participating states, helping more career-oriented students meet high academic standards and prepare for college or specialized training, Bottoms said.
For more details on any of the topics discussed at the meeting, contact SREB Communications.
SREB, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, advises state education leaders on ways to improve education. SREB was created in 1948 by Southern governors and legislatures to help leaders in education and government work cooperatively to advance education and improve the social and economic life of the region. SREB has 16 member states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Each is represented by its governor and four gubernatorial appointees.