How to improve college graduation rates? Change college

College graduates sit and read programs during the 2012 Syracuse University Commencement.

More people than ever are going to college these days. But a new report from the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment says not enough of those students are finishing. 

With just 38 percent of young adults in this country earning an associate's degree or higher, the U.S. is in tenth place internationally.

The commission convened in 2011 after the Obama Administration asked college leaders to study the dropout problem, and now, they've releaseed an open letter to college and university leaders, uring them to make college completion a priority.

"We've gotten too focused on bodies in, " says Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State, and the group's chairman, "and not about making certain that there's an opportunity for people to really complete their work."

The report recommends improving remedial education, providing services like counseling and childcare for working adults, and, says Gee, putting someone on campus in charge of getting more students across the finish line.

"Having run large universities for a long period of time, I know that you need to make certain that there is someone who has responsibility and is reminded of that every day and reminds others."

College presidents also agree they have to do more to keep costs down.

Richard Kahlenberg studies college access at the Century Foundation and says, "The costs of college have gone up so much that many low income and working class students have to work full time, and there's a lot of research to suggest that discourages students from completing."

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.


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