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INCREASING COLLEGE SUCCESS: New NGA Brief Outlines Key Solutions for Governors Seeking to Raise Their States’ College Completion Rates

"Because technological changes continue to increase the demand for workers who can think critically, the majority of the jobs of the future will require a college degree or certificate."

In order to change the nation’s decade-long, flat-line trend in college attainment rates, governors must take swift action to ensure that more students are obtaining the higher education degrees required in today’s workforce. This is according to Increasing College Success: A Roadmap for Governors, a recent issue brief from the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices.

“Because technological changes continue to increase the demand for workers who can think critically, the majority of the jobs of the future will require a college degree or certificate,” said NGA Center Director John Thomasian. “This brief outlines ways that governors and states can help more students achieve college success while also holding the postsecondary system more accountable for college completion.”

Even though large numbers of students are admitted to colleges and universities, many of them are unprepared for the demands of college-level course work. As a result, these students must invest a considerable amount of time in remedial classes, which amounts to substantial costs to both students and state governments. To avoid these challenges, NGA urges governors to champion high school methods proven to boost students’ readiness for college and careers. These strategies include ensuring high school courses are rigorous and consistent with one another, using assessment data to signal whether or not students are ready for college, and expanding programs of study. The brief recognizes programs of study as curricula built around a broad industry sector-such as finance or engineering-and linked to earning college credits or program certificates.

On the higher education end, NGA suggests that public two-year colleges take cues from private two-year colleges and provide students with the proper academic and social support. Two-year private colleges recognize that they attract nontraditional students who may need more assistance along their path to earning a diploma. Therefore, they often provide students with clear pathways, endpoints, and timeframes; data systems to track their progress; mandatory advising; and active job recruiting and placement opportunities. These systems of support go a long way in helping students feel like they are part of a learning community and helping them to succeed in a college setting.

In addition, NGA recommends that state leaders encourage postsecondary institutions to make it easier for students to transfer from two-year to four-year colleges. Currently only a handful of states-Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Florida, and California-have what the report calls “transfer-friendly policies.” Such policies enable students to know in advance the academic courses that will transfer, the colleges to which the courses will transfer, and for what amount of credit.

The brief asserts that performance-based state funding, as opposed to enrollment-based state funding, would encourage more colleges to make completion rates a priority. It recommends that 8-10 percent of funding be based on colleges’ publicly reported outcomes and suggests that performance-based formulas be experimented initially, but eventually made into law. Without such a move, it argues, the stability and duration that performance-based formulas provide could be at risk.

The recommendations from the report were developed during a 2008 forum hosted by the NGA Center for Best Practices Co-Leads for Education, Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri (R), and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D). To read the full brief, visit


Higher Education

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