Feds take more steps to boost U.S. college graduation rate

The department published data showing the percentage of college graduates in each state as of 2009, the number of grads needed for each state to have a 60-percent completion rate by 2020, and the number needed for a 50-percent increase in completion in that same period.

Graduation figures range from a low of 28 percent in Arkansas, Nevada, and New Mexico to 54 percent in Massachusetts. The District of Columbia topped all states, with 65 percent of its residents holding degrees.

Nineteen states already have set their own goals for increasing college completion.

ED on March 22 also announced $20 million in grants for innovations designed to improve success and productivity at postsecondary schools.

The department is accepting applications from now until May 23 for the 2011 Comprehensive Grant Program, which is part of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). The Comprehensive Grant Program will provide $20 million to colleges for innovative reform practices that have the potential to serve as models for the nation.

In its 2012 budget, the administration has proposed another $123 million in competitive funds for programs that speed learning, boost completion rates, and hold down tuition through a program called First in the World.

A second proposed program of $50 million would reward states and institutions for producing more college grads. That program is called College Completion Incentive Grants, and states would be eligible to apply if Congress approves the program in its 2012 budget.

Federal data shows that about one-third of first-year college students nationwide had taken at least one remedial course in the 2007-08 school year. At two-year colleges, 42 percent had taken at least one remedial course.

Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, said the strategies recommended by Biden have proven effective but are only one part of the solution.