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Higher Education Leaders Call for Bold Action on Attainment

January 23, 2013

Open Letter Highlights "Unacceptable" Loss of Human Potential, Offers Strategies for Change

​In an open letter released today, leading college and university presidents call upon their colleagues to make retention and completion a critical campus priority to stem the unacceptable loss of human potential represented by the number of students who never make it to graduation.

The letter, issued by the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment, praises efforts already underway on many college and university campuses but also highlights the need for additional action: "We need to do more … We believe every institution must pay as much attention to the number of degrees it grants—completion—as it does to success in admissions and recruitment. It is now time for all colleges and universities to marshal the resources needed to make completion our strategic priority."

"While America boasts an unequaled system of higher education, we cannot afford to squander the opportunity it represents to millions of Americans. We must broaden the national conversation about higher education. It is incumbent upon campus leaders to ensure that completion is as much of an institutional priority as access," said E. Gordon Gee, chair of the commission and president of The Ohio State University. 

The commission provides a blueprint for a campus-level college completion campaign designed to prevent students from falling by the wayside as they pursue a degree. Campus leaders are urged to consider three main areas for reform: changing the campus culture, improving cost-effectiveness and quality, and making better use of data. The letter includes possible strategies to advance the goal of increased attainment.

Among the strategies suggested are clearly and unambiguously assigning responsibility to specific senior administrators for improving retention and graduation rates; considering expanded use of assessments that measure learning acquired outside the traditional classroom; improving remedial services; pinpointing weaknesses in preparation; and harnessing information technology to identify at-risk students.

"Whenever this nation has been faced with daunting challenge, education has provided an effective remedy," said Andrew K. Benton, commission vice chair and Pepperdine University (CA) president. "Education enables the future and, particularly now, we need a confident workforce prepared for every task—from laboratory to assembly line—that is before us. Colleges and universities, large and small, have an important role to play."

"America needs college graduates as never before to fuel our economy and renew our society," said Gail O. Mellow, commission vice chair and LaGuardia Community College (NY) president. "The commission's blueprint energizes me as a college president to redouble my efforts to ensure that every student graduates."

"A robust, diverse, high-quality higher education community is essential if we are to achieve a strong American future," said George A. Pruitt, vice chair of the commission and president of Thomas Edison State College (NJ). "The academy must not only be open to, but lead self-reform. The states must be prepared to reinvest, and federal policy must change, to promote reform and innovation. We hope this letter will stimulate a national conversation toward these ends."

Convened in October 2011, the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment was created with participation from the American Council on Education, the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and included members nominated by each association, representing two-year, four-year, public and private institutions. (A full membership list is available here.) The goal of the commission was to chart a course for greatly improving college retention and attainment and, in turn, restoring the nation's higher education preeminence.

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin Hennessy ▪ 202-939-9367 (office) ▪ 202-664-4205 (cell) ▪

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