The Graduates

Technology has a vital role to play in helping college students-- and our country-- succeed.

Geoffrey H. FletcherPresident Obama set a goal at the beginning of his administration: "By 2020, this nation will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

Well, judging by the results of the latest ACT exams, we have a long way to go: Only 23 percent of all students taking the test are ready for college-level coursework in all four major subjects.

Not surprisingly, this academic unreadiness shows up in college graduation statistics. According to the White House, "Nearly half of students who enter community college intending to earn a degree or transfer to a four-year college fail to reach their goal within six years.” The completion rate for four-year institutions is equally abysmal: only 36.4 percent within four years and 58.8 percent within six years.

And though a higher percentage of the population has a college degree than ever before (in 1970 it was just 11 percent; in 2005 it was 28 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics), all we have to do is look at the most recent unemployment numbers to understand the impact of a college degree on one's economic well-being. In August 2009, the national unemployment rate was 9.7 percent for high school graduates, 8.2 percent for people with some college credit or an associate's degree, and 4.7 percent for people with a bachelor's degree or higher. Bad news for high school dropouts: That unemployment rate was 15.6 percent. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

In response to this crisis, Obama has launched the American Graduation Initiative, a 10-year, $12 billion investment to help reclaim our country's leadership position in college graduation rates.

Technology can and will play a major role in this effort. Preliminary information indicates that the focus of Obama's initiative will be on community colleges-- but the approaches can benefit four-year institutions also. For example, the administration wants to set up data systems to track students' education progress, completion, and then career success. Statewide data systems are being created to track students through K-12, and continuing that effort into higher ed and the workplace could prove invaluable. Modernizing facilities so that students and faculty have access to each other as well as information any time anywhere also makes great sense. Investing in more and better online content, courses, and programs can help meet the various learning needs of a growing diverse population. All these efforts need technology; trained faculty to use it well; and a solid, supported IT infrastructure.

To shine more light on technology's role in college completion, CT is offering The College Graduation Summit: Innovative Technologies and Strategies, a virtual event on Oct. 29, presented with support from CDW-G and its partners. (Register here.) And don't miss our December issue, which will focus on community colleges and key topics from the American Graduation Initiative.

Keeping students engaged, enrolled, and prepared for their futures makes fiscal sense not only for every student and every higher education institution, but also for the success of our nation as it redefines itself in the global 21st century economy.

-- Geoff Fletcher, Editorial Director

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