National Center for Higher Education Management Systems

Increasing College Attainment in the United States

Increasing College Attainment in the United States: Variations in Returns to States and Their Residents


The popularity of the national goals for college completion established by the Obama administration and large philanthropic organizations such as Lumina and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundations has sparked a flurry of related activities across U.S. postsecondary education. With the help of these philanthropies, organizations such as Complete College America and the National Governors Association are working directly with policymakers and other higher education leaders in some states to set specific goals for the education levels of their working-aged populations.  Other states are following suit without much direct outside intervention. 

The college-completion agenda is based on the premise that higher education produces both private and public financial benefits and thereby encourages economic prosperity. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), in partnership with the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), set out to investigate this founding premise by estimating the monetary returns the US as a whole and each of the 50 states would experience as a result of increasing the numbers of college graduates they produce. The results showed that increasing college attainment across the board generates greater benefits in some states than in others due to a combination of their economy and tax policies. Such findings add a new layer of complexity to the college completion agenda, both on the individual and state level.

The general acceptance of the strong relationships between education, income, and public economic strength is at the core of all of college attainment goals at the national and state levels.

For more information on this study and the models below, please contact Patrick Kelly at 303.497.0307.

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