Monday, January 20, 2014

The President's Agenda for College Completion and One Little Problem

Many of you know about President Obama's call for the US to lead the world by 2020 in the percentage of citizens with college degrees.  It's a noble challenge to the country: We were first as recently as 1990, but we currently rank 12th.

And of course, it's not just a challenge to students: It's one to colleges and universities to improve access and to improve college completion among enrolled students via a wide ranging series of measures.

I had earlier tweeted that there was one small problem with this: That if we want to improve that rate by 2020, we're going to have to invent a time machine, go back 10 years, and spend more on pre-K and elementary education, which have frequently (but admittedly not definitively, for those who want to argue everything) to be the best investment in education.  Kids who don't do well in school early have greater struggles farther on, and the dream of college is even less likely. (Of course, doing well in early grade school does not ensure college readiness, either.)

And then we have the issue of paying for college, once a student qualifies for admission.  We know that Pell Grants have not kept pace with college costs, and we also know that college costs have risen too fast.  (Note: I include this Pell Grant chart for its information only; the visual suggests just the opposite of reality, in what can only be called one of the worst charts ever.)

One problem: We're pretty much going backwards on something as simple as free and reduced lunches. Take a look at the map below, and pull the slider from 2000 to 2011.  If we have more students from families who can't afford school lunch; rising college costs; and decreased federal support, it's going to be tough to get more kids to college.

Note: The qualifications for reduced for free lunches are not perfectly static, of course.  Here is the data over time.