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March 26, 2012 at 3:52 PM

Report: College enrollment growing too slowly

More Americans have college degrees than ever, but the pace of increase is far too slow to meet future labor needs, a new report by a national education foundation says.

The report, by the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, ranks the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area fifth in the nation in terms of the number of its adults who have an associate degree or higher.

That number would seem to suggest that Washington is doing a good job of educating its citizens. But other reports — most notably, a January study by University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education — have concluded that Washington’s high percentage of residents with degrees is because many employers go out of state, and even out of the country, to import skilled workers.

The Pennsylvania report noted that only 40 out of every 100 Washington students who start ninth grade will enter college on time. Many state policy leaders have also expressed concern that Washington isn’t producing enough college degrees, especially in high-demand fields such as computer science and engineering.

The Lumina study, which used data from the 2010 census, showed that the higher-education attainment rate of young adults in Washington — ages 25 to 34 — was 40.7 percent, slightly better than the national average of 39.3 percent for that age group.

In 2009, the Lumina Foundation adopted a goal of working to see that 60 percent of Americans obtain a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025.

“If the current rate of degree production continues, nearly 49 percent of Washington’s adult population — about 2 million people — will hold a college degree in 2025,” the report says. “To reach 60 percent, Washington will need to add more than 471,000 degrees to that total.”

The report says that college attainment is especially low in Washington’s rural counties. The lowest was Franklin County, where only 22 percent of adult residents have at least an associate degree. Other counties with college attainment rates under 30 percent include Adams, Cowlitz, Douglas, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Klickitat, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Pend Oreille, Wahkiakum and Yakima.

The Lumina Foundation, which was started in 2000, describes itself as the largest foundation dedicated to increasing students’ access to and success in postsecondary education. It was founded from the proceeds of the sale of assets of USA Group Inc., a nonprofit student-loan-guarantee agency, to the Student Loan Marketing Administration (Sallie Mae). It has sometimes worked in tandem with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Comments | More in Education, General news | Topics: higher education

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