Pell Institute report
Developing 20/20 Vision on the 2020 Degree Attainment Goal: The Threat of Income-Based Inequality in Education
Improving college degree attainment is essential as the United States seeks to remain economically competitive in a globalized marketplace. As the economy continues to evolve and become increasingly more complex, it is critical that our education system provides our youth with the skills, ingenuity, and critical thinking abilities that can stimulate and maintain the economy as we advance in the 21st century. Understanding this need, President Obama has identified education as a key component of his Administration’s agenda. In the President’s February 24, 2009 address to a Joint Session of Congress, he announced his goal for the United States to become once again the nation with the largest percentage of college-educated citizens in the world. This goal will require raising the percentage of Americans ages 25 to 64 with a college degree from 41.2% to nearly 60.0% (OECD, 2010). However, at the current pace, projections using the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey suggest that only 46.4% of Americans in the target age group will have earned a college degree by 2020, leaving the nation nearly 24 million degrees shy of the 60% target rate.
The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education argues in this brief that income-based inequality in educational attainment is a central obstacle to achieving the 2020 goal and that decreasing income-based attainment gaps must become a central focus of federal education policy. Additionally, we offer four federal policy recommendations that address the challenge of income-based disparities in degree attainment.
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