Connecticut joins effort to increase college graduation rates

Connecticut has joined 16 other states in a national alliance to reverse a discouraging downward trend in the percentage of young people earning college degrees, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced today.

The states have joined Complete College America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that will assist states in setting goals for graduation rates, monitoring progress, and devising strategies to bolster the numbers.

“Connecticut has long been known for its highly educated work force – it has been a primary driver of our economic success over the centuries,” Rell said in a press release. “Yet today we see signs of a potential slippage. This has serious implications for both our economic and social well-being.”

A 2006 study, “New England 2020,” predicts that the New England states, with the possible exception of New Hampshire, will see a decline over the next decade in the percentage of young people holding bachelor’s degrees. By 2020, just over 30 percent of Connecticut’s young adults will hold bachelor’s degrees, compared with 34 percent in 1993, the study says.

Nationwide, experts predict a similar decline.

This could be “the first generation in our history less educated than their parents,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

In Connecticut, Rell cited efforts already under way to address the issue, including the work of the state Commission for the Advancement of 21st Century Skills and Careers, a group of educators, civic officials, business leaders and others working to align education systems and build better pathways to college and career success.

The work of that commission aligns closely with the goals of the new 17-state alliance, said state Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti, who chairs the commission along with Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan.

“This is a national agenda,” Meotti said. “There is a lot to be learned by working with other states.” The United States is the only developed country in the world seeing a decline in the level of education from one generation to the next, he said.

One of the goals is to reduce the number of college dropouts. In Connecticut, for example, just 56 percent of students complete degrees within six years of entering public colleges, according to a report compiled by Complete College America. At private four-year colleges, 72 percent get degrees within six years, but at public two-year colleges, the figure is 10 percent.

In addition to Connecticut, members of the alliance include Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.

Support for the alliance comes from five national foundations: the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Lumina Foundation for Education.