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Reaching A Postsecondary Attainment Goal: A Multistate Overview

Evidence shows that earning a college degree or postsecondary credential is critical for maintaining a competitive edge, both for individuals as well as the larger economy. Although the attainment continues to grow among young Americans, the United States still falls behind many other developed countries. Since 2009, there has been a federal push to increase economic competitiveness by promoting postsecondary educational attainment. Over the past decade, 41 states have adopted some form of attainment goals, of varying criteria. A recent study by Patrick Sims and Javaid Siddiqi of The Hunt Institute gives an overview of states with meaningful goals and analyzes lessons learned.

The goals outlined at the state level differ with respect to age ranges, timelines, credential definitions, and targeted growth, but some common components across states appear to show real progress. Emerging trends appear to point toward a coordinated effort that engages both public and private sector leadership, strategically aimed at promoting goals with clear and widespread communication.

A strong K-12 foundation is important to increase retention and completion. Policy focus should be aimed at all students, regardless of background, and ensuring they have access to an affordable path to degree completion. Financial support is also necessary, so students know what resources are available to them when pursuing higher education. As well, policymakers should make sure historically underserved students are not left behind in this push to increase attainment.