Nearly 500 public colleges that account for three-quarters of all four-year college students pledged Tuesday to produce a combined 3.8 million additional graduates by 2025, an ambitious target that would help bring the United States closer to its goal of regaining its lost global lead in college attainment.
The schools represented currently produce just over 1 million graduates per year and, at current rates, would produce about 14.6 million degrees by 2025. Reaching the new target of 18.4 million will require institutions to improve by about 3 percent annually beyond current trends, to about 1.6 million annually, said Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities President Peter McPherson.
"That's a big deal, particularly with this growing diversity in the high school graduating classes," said McPherson, whose organization is driving the effort along with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
The institutions are not committing to enrolling more students, though many probably will. But the focus will be on improving completion rates — long considered the weak link of American higher education. Though the United States is among the best in the world getting students into college, by some measures more than one-third of students fail to earn a degree, and it's fallen from first to 14th in the proportion of adults with a degree. As college completion rates have stagnated, the economic importance of higher education has increased, fueling inequality.