Lumina's College Productivity Initiative
Lumina's College Productivity Initiative is a multi-year initiative focused on increasing productivity within U.S. higher education, particularly at two- and four-year public colleges and universities. The aim is to use dollars invested by students, parents, and taxpayers to graduate more students. The initiative, supported by Lumina Foundation for Education and the Walmart Foundation, relies on partner organizations working within various states to develop, promote, and implement policies and practices that will help achieve this goal.
States must work harder—and faster—to educate enough college graduates for the country to sustain the vitality of its local communities and the economy. To meet workforce demands alone, estimates indicate the United States will need a million more graduates a year than it’s on track to turn out during the next 16 years. Without a major overhaul, the nation’s higher-education system is simply too costly to meet this challenge. Meanwhile, global competition is roiling the U.S. economy. Failing to meet the need for a better-educated workforce will have dire consequences for citizens’ ability to earn living wages.
A generation ago, the United States had the best-educated population in the world. Today, the country ranks 10th among industrialized countries in the percentage of its citizens 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. The good news is that educating a greater share of the U.S. population does not have to cost a lot more. The country already spends at least twice as much as the average industrialized nation per student. Better investment, with a focus on productivity, should generate better results.
Lumina's College Productivity Initiative relies on three strategies:
- Build leadership and demand for a productivity agenda within public higher education.
- Equip higher education leaders, business leaders, and policymakers with tools and data that can help make higher education more productive.
- Work within states to identify cost-effective ways of graduating more students.
Significant new public investment in higher education is unlikely without evidence of a commitment by colleges and universities to changing the way they do business without sacrificing quality. Maintaining quality means graduating many more people without diluting the skill and knowledge attainment signified by the awarding of two- and four-year degrees.
The Productivity Agenda consists of three priorities for work within states:
- Recast state finance systems to reward institutions for graduating students, not just enrolling them.
- Increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of academic programs and administrative operations.
- Align resources in ways that allow institutions to serve more students.
Increasing productivity could mean looking to other countries or industries for solutions. The United States needs educational models capable of reaching many more students, especially those toughest to serve. Many students arrive at college more poorly prepared than in the past and will need extra assistance to succeed. Often, these students are minorities, first-generation college goers, students from low-income families, and working adults. Serving these students, who will comprise the bulk of the U.S. workforce in years ahead, is likely to require new approaches.
Time to Completion
As part of the College Productivity Initiative, Jobs for the Future developed the Time to Completion project. Many barriers that extend student time to completion can be addressed through improvements in policy and practice. States, systems, and institutions have begun to experiment with new ideas that hold real promise for promoting timely completion.
Building on those experiments, Jobs for the Future’s Time to Completion project has two goals:
- Expanding what we know about time to completion through research and analysis; and
- Advocating for policies and practices leading to more timely completion for a greater number of students.
To remain competitive in the evolving global economy, the United States must increase postsecondary credential attainment rates. The challenge is to improve the productivity of the U.S. higher education system so that more students graduate within existing resources.
However, the goal must be not just to increase attainment rates but to ensure that more students graduate in a timely manner. Extended time to completion–students accumulating excess credits and enrolling for additional semesters–is a critical barrier to increasing the productivity of U.S. higher education. Today, the achievement of an Associate’s degree within two years or a Bachelor’s degree within four years is no longer the norm.
Students are spending more time than ever to complete a postsecondary credential. Currently, fewer than half of first-time-in-college students who attend full time graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within four years. At the same time, many community college systems report that students are graduating with average credit accumulations far exceeding the state standard for an Associate’s degree. The average time to completion for a student who transfers to a Bachelor’s degree–granting institution from a community college is 16 months longer than a student who began at such an institution. Nontraditional students, including those who delayed initial enrollment, attend part-time to work while enrolled, or have a family, are the students least likely to complete a degree in five years.
As students extend their credential or degree paths, they accrue more debt and delay reaping their increased earning potential. By utilizing campus resources and accumulating excess credits, these students cost institutions more money than those who complete on time. In an era of diminishing resources and increasing enrollment demand, states and postsecondary systems need to explore new ways to move students more efficiently towards degree completion.
For more information, contact:
Nancy Hoffman, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617.728.4446
- Time to Completion: States and Systems Must Tackle the Time Dilemma
- Calculating Cost-Return for Investments in Student Success
- Time to Completion Project Overview
- Paying for College: Distinguishing Between Cost and Price
- Cost, Commitment, and Attainment in Higher Education: An International Comparison
- Squeeze Play: How Parents and the Public Look at Higher Education Today
- Hitting Home: Quality, Cost, and Access Challenges Confronting Higher Education Today