College-Ready Students, Student-Ready Colleges

Enhancing Degree Completion Through Student Empowerment and Systems Change


“Education, we feel, will be the critical factor of whether we rise to the challenge of being a globalized nation,” said Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs at AT&T, who delivered the opening remarks at a Center for American Progress event on the effectiveness of the postsecondary education system.

The event focused on the topics contained in two recent CAP reports: “College For All?” by Paul Osterman and “A Federal Agenda for Promoting Student Success and Degree Completion,” by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Josipa Roksa. Louis Soares, Director of the Economic Mobility Program at the Center for American Progress and co-author of CAP’s own policy agenda to enhance the effectiveness of the postsecondary education system, “College-Ready Students, Student-Ready Colleges: Enhancing Degree Completion through Student Empowerment and Systems Change," introduced and moderated the event.

Soares shared a story about his niece who struggled to get a degree after entering college, and said that personalized demands by students are “effectively changing the demand for postsecondary experiences.” He stressed the need for student empowerment, adaptable universities, and public policy to create financial transparency and quality in schooling information.

In his report, Soares and co-author Christopher Mazzeo laid out six policy areas for the postsecondary education system. Three of them focused on making students “college ready” and included investing in preparation for college in high school and beyond; providing more flexible and transparent financial assistance through the federal student aid system; and helping develop better and more widely available information about college quality.

The other three focused on helping institutions become more “student ready” and included building capacity to help institutions change practices and develop new approaches to improving success in college; creating more seamless alignment across secondary and postsecondary education and with other systems; and enhancing accountability by measuring learning and success in schools and colleges.

In his remarks, Cicconi discussed AT&T’s initiative to alleviate high dropout rates in high schools. He emphasized the need for business leaders and other influential community leaders to join together to fix the problems in the education system. “By working together, we can ensure America remains a leader in the global economy,” he said.

Osterman, a professor at MIT, discussed the economic case for expanding higher education, explaining the wage data and productivity boost caused by a college degree or experience. Although most “college jobs” could be done by people without a degree, Osterman said, if the boost in productivity makes up for the cost of the higher wages, a college education makes sense. “People have better lives if they have more education,” he said.

Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, discussed the paper she co-authored about fixing the postsecondary education federal agenda. While college-going is on the rise, the time-to-degree ratio is increasing as the completion rates stagnate.

“We ought to be concerned about the message we are sending to our children if we are promoting access without completion,” Roksa said. She argued that the federal government needs to broaden its role in higher education, focusing on success as well as access and students as well as institutions.

Roksa and Osterman then joined a panel that included Anthony Carnevale, director of the Global Institute on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University and Kevin Carey, research and policy manager of the Education Sector.

Carey commented on the policy paper, saying that the real problem with the system is the rising cost of postsecondary education. “This is a one-issue town,” he said. “Everything is about cost.” Carey emphasized the importance of distinguishing between price and quality; accountability is needed to make sure the learning is more important than the cost.

Carnevale disagreed with parts of the economic paper, saying that the economic returns for attaining a bachelor’s degree have not been flat recently. The numbers used in the report were too superficial and focused on occupations and wages, not education, he said.

All the panelists agreed that despite the economic benefits to college degrees, the need extends beyond a financial one. Information needs to be available to reveal the true value of the specific education. “You need to demonstrate that students are leaving with more than what they came in with,” Roksa said.

Welcome, Introduction and Moderation by:
Louis Soares, Director, Economic Mobility Program, Center for American Progress; co-author, "College Ready Students, Student Ready Colleges: Enhancing Degree Completion through Student Empowerment and Systems Change"

Opening Remarks:
Jim Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President for External and Legislative Affairs, AT&T

Featured Panelists and Discussants:
Anthony Carnevale, Research Professor, Director of the Global Institute on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University
Kevin Carey, Research and Policy Manager, Education Sector
Sara Goldrick-Rab, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison; co-author, A Federal Agenda For Promoting Student Success and Degree Completion
Paul Osterman, Professor, MIT; author, College for All? The Labor Market for College Educated Workers
Josipa Roksa, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia co-author, A Federal Agenda For Promoting Student Success and Degree Completion

Closing Remarks:
Tom Perez, Secretary, Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation


Center for American Progress, 1333 H St. NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC , 20005

Additional information

Coffee will be served at 9:30 a.m.