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Hitting Home: Quality, Cost, and Access Challenges Confronting Higher Education Today

Travis Reindl

The United States faces a significant gap in the number of college degrees it produces compared with other developed nations, according to this report prepared for Making Opportunity Affordable, a major initiative on college quality, cost, and access supported by Lumina Foundation for Education. The “degree gap” threatens the nation´s ability to maintain its economic competitiveness, build a labor force ready to take on high-skill jobs, and close racial and ethnic disparities in earnings and academic success.

To close the gap, the nation´s colleges and universities will need to increase the number of people earning degrees each year by more than 37 percent between now and 2025, according to data prepared for Making Opportunity Affordable by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Many of these degrees will have to be earned by minority, adult, and low-income students, who traditionally have not fared well in degree attainment.

The report documents increasing cost and price challenges in higher education, as well as troubling trends related to its quality.  Rapidly rising institutional spending to provide students an education and skyrocketing prices paid by students and families for that education are being met with declining skill levels among college graduates. To address this productivity problem—spending more on higher education and getting less—the report calls on states and institutions to set goals for access, quality, and cost.