Initiative aims to boost US college graduate ranks

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Twenty communities, including Pittsburgh, have been chosen as the first partners in a national initiative aimed at raising the ranks of college graduates.

The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation on Wednesday promised as much as $200,000 to the recipients over three years, along with technical and planning help and input from a network of “thought leaders.”

The private foundation’s overall goal is to raise the percentage of Americans with college degrees from 38 percent to 60 percent by 2025.

“There are many national and global experts that have made the point that the success of communities and metropolitan areas is increasingly derived from the educational attainment of the citizens in those communities,” Lumina President Jamie Merisotis told reporters during a conference call.

Representatives from each of the communities, meanwhile, were meeting with Lumina partners in Indianapolis to begin drafting goals and plans. Progress will be measured by credentials earned after high school, including certificates, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees.

In the majority of cities, the Lumina support will boost existing public and private college attainment efforts, such as Louisville, Ky.’s 55,000 Degrees program, Albuquerque, N.M.’s Mission Graduate! and Say Yes in Syracuse and Buffalo, which provides college tuition and other supports for city students. Each Lumina partner community has designated a lead agency to help manage the resources.

“It is our hope that Lumina’s support can fan the flames that are already burning in our partnership cities, improving results there and showing cities across the country how this gets done and just how transformational education can be for communities’ social, economic and civic strength,” said Haley Glover, the foundation’s strategy director.

The other partner communities are:  Boston; Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; Columbus and Fort Wayne, Ind.; Greensboro, N.C.; Houston and San Antonio, Texas; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Memphis, Tenn.; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pa.; Providence, R.I.; Quad Cities, Iowa/Ill.;  Santa Ana, Calif. and South Seattle, Wash.

“The bottom line, all of the cities are focused on attainment. They are all achieving their goals through collaboration and they are all addressing equity gaps, whether for racial or ethnic groups, low-income students or other traditionally underserved student populations,” Glover said.

The foundation plans to bring on 50 more communities by early 2015, she said.

Participants will have access to numerous education, policy and research organizations, including the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, which will analyze communities’ economic drivers and skills gaps, and the National Student Clearinghouse, which will provide baseline data on student enrollment and credential completion.

About  two-thirds of jobs being created in the United States require some form of post-secondary credential, Merisotis said, up from 25 percent in the 1970s.

“The finish line can no longer be a high school diploma, it simply isn’t sufficient,” he said. “The new finish line for a majority of Americans has to be a high quality, post-secondary credential: a certificate, an associate degree, a (Bachelor of Arts) or beyond.”

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