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The Economic Payoff for Closing College-readiness and Completion Gaps

Joel Vargas

The low rates at which U.S. college students complete a degree and the amount time they spend in remedial coursework are national problems. The situation is particularly acute for low-income and other underserved youth, including populations such as Hispanic students that are growing the fastest in the country and that have some of the lowest success rates in our K-12 and postsecondary education systems. It is a problem not only for the students, and not only because our economy and democracy depend on well-educated citizens, but also because it represents an inefficient use of personal and public investments in education. Every student who falls short of the goal of earning a high school diploma and a college degree represents a financial investment that did not pay off in a credential of value in the labor market.

In response, state policymakers and major foundations have invested in a variety of strategies to improve the college readiness of high school graduates, reduce the need for remedial courses in college, improve college completion rates, and reduce the “time to completion” of a degree. This brief supports the economic logic of such investments, in particular those that result in more low-income youth attaining the postsecondary credentials that can yield enormous benefits to students, families, and taxpayers.