Free Community College: An Approach to Increase Adult Student Success in Postsecondary Education

The oft-repeated refrain is now familiar to many that follow postsecondary and workforce development policy: to meet future workforce needs, the United States must produce more college graduates. In fact, in just four years, 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require postsecondary education.[1] Projections reveal that almost all states have attainment levels below those needed to fill these positions.[2]

In response to this impending gap in the American workforce, more than half of the states have adopted goals to increase postsecondary completion and attainment rates within their borders. For example, by 2025, Minnesota intends to increase the percentage of 25 to 44 year-old residents who hold a postsecondary degree or certificate to 70 percent, one of the most ambitious goals in the country. 3 Nationally, President Barack Obama has called for the U.S. to have “the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” by 2020.4 Similarly, Lumina Foundation has called for 60 percent of Americans to hold a college credential by the year 2025.

However, aggressive and optimistic goals like these are subject to a problematic mathematical fact: there are simply not enough traditionally-aged high school and college students to create the educated workforce required for the 21st century economy. Compounding this issue, postsecondary policy at both the federal and state levels generally tips toward a myopic focus on serving 18 to 24 year-old students. This focus is not ill-placed, but alone, it excludes the needs of millions of Americans who have the potential to complete a credential and contribute meaningfully to state economies nationwide. 

[1] Carnavale, Anthony P., Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl. Georgetown Public Policy Insitute Center on Education and the Workforce. “Recovery: Projections of Jobs and Educational Requirements through 2020.” uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.SR_.Web_.pdf (accessed September 7, 2016)

[2] Ibid, Carnevale

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