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

States also must significantly raise high school graduation rates, while increasing the preparation of high school students for college-level classes, said Wise, a Democrat.

“It’s about first getting the high school diploma, and the second step is making sure there is preparation behind the diploma,” Wise said.

Toward that end, the National Governors Association is already spearheading an effort known as the Common Core standards initiative, which set uniform academic benchmarks that have been adopted by 41 states.

Though a spokeswoman for the association did not immediately return a request for comment, Wise said he thinks state executives will be receptive.

“Every governor knows this needs to be done,” he said. “Every governor would be looking for every partner he or she could find, because they’re all definitely trying to do this.”

But Robert Schwartz, academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, cautioned that hitting the goal of a 60-percent national graduation rate by 2020 still will not be a panacea.

Schwartz heads the Pathways to Prosperity Project, which released a study in February concluding that the U.S. education system should offer greater emphasis on occupational instruction.

“What’s the strategy for the other 40 percent of people?” he said. “We can’t keep saying, ‘College for all, college for all’ and yet set targets that even if you could meet them are going to leave out very large proportions of young people.”