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Contact: Alan Richard
(404) 879-5544
Released: 12/7/2010

States Need Many More Students to Enroll in College, Finish Two- and Four-Year College Degrees, New Report Shows

ATLANTA — Too few students in the South enroll in college just after high school, and too few who enroll in college actually finish degrees and career certificates, finds an important new report from the nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board.

SREB’s new state-by-state status report on its 16 member states’ progress in higher education, Measuring Success by Degrees: The Status of College Completion in SREB States, provide a full update of college enrollment and graduation rates and other sets of data that states can use to gauge their progress in helping more people earn college degrees and career certificates.

The report shows that the SREB states as a whole are roughly on pace with the nation in college enrollment rates of recent high school graduates — and are just behind the nation in college graduation rates. But the region and nation need to make much more progress in these areas. Fewer than half of ninth-graders in SREB states and the nation have a reasonable chance of college enrollment, the report shows — an alarming statistic.

"We need more students in the pipeline from high school into college of various types to meet the work-force demands in the coming years," SREB President Dave Spence said. "Our region’s and nation’s future depends in no small part on helping more students prepare for and succeed in earning two- and four-year degrees and career certificates."

The new report is a companion to SREB’s major recommendations for improving college completion, No Time to Waste: Policy Recommendations for Improving College Completion, released in October. The recommendations urge the 16 SREB states to lead the nation in improving college completion, and they set a target of having 60 percent of adults ages 25 to 64 in each state to have a college degree or high-quality career certificate by the year 2025.

Measuring Success by Degrees points out that the current generation of young Americans will be "less well-educated" than the previous generation, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The United States also is at risk of losing its leadership role internationally in overall education levels of its population.

The new SREB report outlines several details:

  • States’ overall education attainment rates are up only slightly in SREB states in recent years. One in four adults ages 25 and over held a bachelor’s degree or higher in the region in 2008, compared with 27 percent nationally.
  • Traditionally less-educated demographic groups are the fastest-growing segments of the population. SREB states need to help more black and Hispanic students, and those from low-income families, enter and graduate from college. Otherwise, growth in the percentage of working-age adults with college degrees may come to a halt.
  • Even with major improvements in high school graduation rates some states, SREB states still need to graduate many more from high school — and to ensure more graduates are ready for college. Ninth-graders in SREB states in 2002 had nearly a 44 percent chance of enrolling in college by age 19 in fall 2006, just below the 44.4 percent national rate. In the region, only in Maryland were more than half of ninth-graders likely to attend college, and its region-leading rate was only 51.9 percent.
  • College enrollment rates of recent high school graduates are up in most SREB states — but the largest gains have been in states with poor high school graduation rates. Sixty-two percent of recent high school graduates in SREB states enrolled in college in 2008, up from 57 percent in 2000. The U.S. rate was 63 percent, up from 56 percent in 2000.
  • The rates of college freshmen who return for their second year are relatively flat. The persistence rate for public four-year colleges in SREB states was 85 percent in 2007, the same as in 2002. Persistence rates for two-year colleges rose from 60 percent to 65 percent over the same period.
  • College graduation rates need to be higher nationally and in many states. But these rates are flawed because they don’t include transfer and part-time students. The graduation rate was 53 percent in SREB states for first-time, full-time students in public four-year institutions, allowing them six years to complete a bachelor’s degree by 2008. The national rate was 55 percent. For two-year colleges, the graduation rate was 17 percent in SREB states in 2008, compared with 20 percent nationally, allowing full-time students three years to finish an associate’s degree or career certificate. Delaware and Virginia had 67 percent graduation rates for four-year colleges, the region’s highest. Florida had the region’s highest graduation rate for two-year colleges at 31 percent.
  • College graduation rates for black and Hispanic students continue to trail their white classmates nationally. Although SREB states’ graduation rates for these students are comparable with national rates, both rates are too low, which is alarming because these students represent much of the region’s college enrollment growth. The graduation rate for white students in public four-year institutions in SREB states was 56 percent for 2008, compared with 57 percent nationally. The rate for black students in SREB states was 39 percent, matching the national rate. Hispanic students’ rate in SREB states was 44 percent, compared with 46 percent nationally. Six SREB states had higher graduation rates in four-year institutions than the national rates for all three groups of students: Delaware, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
  • SREB has developed progression rates to give states’ information on college completion beyond graduation rates. For example, while the region’s graduation rate for full-time students in four-year public institutions was 53 percent in 2008, 75 percent of full-time students who had started four-year colleges in 2002 had transferred or remained enrolled in their original institution in 2008.

States can make more progress in improving college completion by following the recommendations outlined in SREB’s No Time to Waste report. Developed in consultation with leaders in many SREB states, the report urges states to set clearer statewide, systemwide and institutional goals for raising the numbers of degrees and certificates awarded annually, and to improve graduation rates at the same time. It also recommends major efforts to hold systems and institutions more accountable for improvements, to tie some funding to performance goals for these institutions, to bring many more adults with some college credit but no degree back to finish college, to prepare high school students better for college-level work, to boost college affordability and need-based financial aid, and to ease students’ paths to degree through more efficiency and stronger transfer programs. More details are available in No Time to Waste, available at www.sreb.org.

The Southern Regional Education Board, or SREB, based in Atlanta, 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. More information is available online at www.sreb.org.

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

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