June 13, 2013

Jefferson City - Missouri ranks sixth in the nation in the increase in the number of residents with college degrees, according to a new report issued today by the Lumina Foundation, an independent non-profit devoted to increasing Americans' success in higher education.

In 2008, 34.9 percent of working age Missourians had a college degree or other postsecondary credential. That number rose to 36.4 percent in 2011, the most recent year such figures are available.

Compared to college attainment rates in other states, though, Missouri still has a long way to go. The top state is Massachusetts, where 50.8 percent of the population has a college degree. West Virginia is last in the nation, with 27.8 percent. The national average is 38.7 percent of the population.

Dewayne Matthews, vice president of policy and strategy for the Lumina Foundation, told a group of higher education leaders in Jefferson City on Monday that increasing the college attainment rate is essential for the economic wellbeing of the state and nation.

During the recent recession, the economy actually added 200,000 jobs that require a bachelor's degree or higher, while eliminating 5.6 million jobs that only require a high school diploma or less. "The recession accelerated long term declines in middle-skilled, middle-wage jobs," Matthews said.

The Lumina Foundation estimates that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some form of postsecondary education. "Yet, degree attainment rates in the U.S. have been flat for the last 30 years," Matthews said. "Our young people have lower college attainment rates than the baby boom generation, and this has led to the decline of the U.S. to 13th among developed nations."

Matthews told the higher education leaders that state policies that allow students to progress through college efficiently are contributing to Missouri's rate of college attainment. Those policies include articulation agreements that ensure credits earned at one institution will transfer to others, and a soon-to-be implemented core library of courses that will transfer to all public higher education institutions in the state.

Matthews said funding models that reward institutions for improving completion rates are good policy incentives. The Missouri legislature adopted a performance funding model for public higher education institutions for the 2014 fiscal year.

Missouri benefitted from a tuition freeze at public colleges and universities, negotiated by Gov. Nixon in 2010 and 2011, that kept college affordable and boosted enrollment. Missouri has compiled the lowest rate of tuition growth in the nation during the last three years, making higher education in Missouri a good value.

Matthews noted that 755,000 Missourians have attended college but don't have a degree. The Lumina Foundation provided Missouri with a grant to implement "reverse transfer" in the state. Reverse transfer helps students who have earned enough credits for an associate's degree obtain that degree even if they have transferred to a four-year institution or stopped out of college altogether.

Western Governors University, a private, non-profit institution, will open a branch in Missouri this year. WGU-Missouri addresses the needs of working adults by awarding them credit for competencies they have learned on the job so they can progress toward a degree based on what they know rather than time spent in class. This "competency-based" approach to education will also improve Missouri's rate of degree attainment, Matthews said.

Although positive progress is being taken to increase the percentage of degree holders in the working population, Commissioner of Higher Education David Russell said that more Missourians must be convinced of the importance of post-secondary education or risk being left behind economically.

 "As a state, we must recognize that the jobs of the future require higher education," Russell said. "And we must commit to providing the resources needed so all students are equipped to succeed in a knowledge-based economy."

###