Arne Duncan urges action to boost college grad rates

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

More students are graduating from college than ever before, but too many are dropping out and getting saddled with debt so the nation needs to focus on improving graduation rates, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday.

“Today nearly half of students who start college never graduate,” Duncan said in a press call where he outlined his vision for the future of higher education. “The most expensive degree is the one you never complete.”

According to federal data, Michigan’s graduation rate is the same as the national average, 55 percent. Alaska and Arizona are last, at 29 percent, while Virginia is first at 70 percent.

The nation’s economy and future depend on students becoming successful, and that means more than making the system affordable and accessible, Duncan said. It also means focusing on outcomes.

“Institutions need to be held accountable when they get paid by taxpayers but fail to deliver,” Duncan said.

While improving college graduation rates strengthens the nation, it also translates into individual prosperity.

Even though the cost of a college education has more than doubled in the last three decades, those with bachelor’s degrees earn about 66 percent more than workers with high school diplomas and will earn, on average, $1 million more in their lifetime, Duncan said.

Even more importantly, an estimated two-thirds of jobs will require postsecondary education by 2020.

“We need to start focusing on outcomes,” U.S. Undersecretary Ted Mitchell added. “States have to step up. We all need to be part of the solution rather than perpetuating a system that doesn’t serve students well. There are far too many students around the county with big debt and no degree.”