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July 23, 2010 2:58 PM Why We’re Sixth

By Daniel Luzer

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The College Board warns that America is not getting enough students through college. As Tamar Lewin writes for the New York Times:

“The growing education deficit is no less a threat to our nation’s long-term well-being than the current fiscal crisis,” Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, warned at a meeting on Capitol Hill of education leaders and policy makers, where he released a report detailing the problem and recommending how to fix it. “To improve our college completion rates, we must think ‘P-16’ and improve education from preschool through higher education.”

The College Board report bemoans the fact that, since only 40 of Americans now have an associate degree or higher, the U.S. now ranks sixth in the world in terms of the percent of the population with college credentials. Russia, Canada, Israel, Japan, and New Zealand all rank higher.

The report also includes ten recommendations to improve this situation, including improving preschool access, dropout prevention, and college counseling. All ten recommendations, if properly implemented, would probably improve education in the U.S. but they’re also all pretty uselessly vague.

Recommendation number eight, for instance, is “restrain growth in tuition and other costs, better-allocate existing resources and require state governments to meet their obligation to fund higher ed.” This is not a policy point likely to result in dramatic change.

Meanwhile, in all the countries that have surpassed the U.S. in terms of college completion relative to population, college is generously state supported and very, very cheap for students and their families. There might be a connection there.

For various reason it’s not really possible, or even desirable, to move to a socialized education system where the state covers most of the cost of all the way up to the tertiary level. But it’s time to look more honestly at this situation. If we really want to improve college completion it’s not enough to promote pet projects like preschool and traffic in meaningless phrases like “clarify and simplify the admission process so that all postsecondary institutions uphold the highest standards.”

The average private, four-year college in America costs $39,028 a year to attend. The average public school costs almost $20,000 a year. The price students pay to attend college has more than doubled in the last 20 years. And we wonder why college completion isn’t improving. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer