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President Obama Wants WA to Get More College Degrees

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SEATTLE (AP) — A new government report shows Washington is one of 15 states that saw the number of college degrees held by 25- to 34-year-olds decrease during the recession.

The data was released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education, the day before Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans to speak at the National Governors Association meeting about raising college attainment across the nation.

The report says 40.9 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in Washington state had college degrees in 2010. About 6,000 more college graduates lived in the state in 2009.

Nationally, the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with some kind of postsecondary degree rose from 38.8 percent to 39.3 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to census data.

President Obama says he wants 60 percent of Americans to have college degrees by the end of the decade. Right now, the only place in the U.S. that has met that goal is Washington, D.C.

“As the president has said, the countries that out-educate today will out-compete us tomorrow,” Duncan said in a statement.

Cuts in higher education funding in 40 states and double-digit increases in tuition rates at four-year public universities are partly to blame for low degree rates, Duncan said.

Washington state has experienced both during the recession, despite state goals to increase college attendance and degrees.

State funding for higher education has been going down for more than 10 years, but most of those cuts have been balanced by steady increases in tuition.

While a decade ago, state government paid about 80 percent of the cost to educate a student at one of Washington’s four-year colleges or universities, it now pays about 30 percent, with most of the difference covered by tuition.

Budget cuts and tuition increases are not completely responsible for the drop in college attainment in Washington state, said Don Bennett, executive director of the new Washington Student Achievement Council.

The economic downturn has also slowed hiring and stopped some employers from bringing new college educated employees into the state, Bennett said.

Despite the drop in Washington state’s numbers, the state still falls in top third of the nation for college attainment, with 14 states beating Washington and 35 states having lower numbers.

The state’s strategic plan for higher education, which was written in 2008 by the Higher Education Coordinating Board, focused on increasing public college capacity, keeping up with the demand for financial aid and improving graduation rates.

A 2012 update of the plan, which is now overseen by the Washington Student Achievement Council, showed all the ways state cuts in higher education dollars can hurt college enrollment and degree attainment:

— By colleges admitting fewer students;

— By making it more difficult for students to get the classes they need to graduate;

— By making college too expensive for some students.

The Washington Student Achievement Council has been tasked by the Legislature with increasing the number of state residents earning college degrees.

“We are at a point where we’ve got to figure it out and do better by people in all age segments,” Bennett said.

– Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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