When U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks with governors Friday in Williamsburg, he'll have one overarching message: Let's work together to boost college completion rates.
"If we want to keep good jobs in this country, we need to have the best-educated workforce," Duncan said Wednesday. "Some form of higher education - four years of university, two years at community college, trade, technical, vocational training, some form of education beyond high school graduation - has to be the goal for every single young person."
Eight million more Americans ages 25 to 34 will need to earn either an associate's or a bachelor's degree for the Obama administration to reach its goal of leading the world in college graduates by 2020.
"It's an ambitious goal," Duncan said. "It's not going to be easy to get there."
Achieving it hinges on whether states maintain financial support for higher education and whether colleges and universities keep tuition affordable, Duncan said. He plans to issue that challenge Friday at the annual meeting of the National Governors Association at the Williamsburg Lodge.
In the past year, 40 states have cut funding for higher education, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Four-year public universities have raised tuition by 15 percent, on average, over the last two years.
"How many states cut funding to corrections?" Duncan asked. "I'm sure it was not 80 percent. What are our values? Do we want to lock people up on the back end, or do we want to educate them on the front end?"
Once the leader in educational attainment, the United States ranked 12th among 36 developed countries for its share of adults ages 25 to 34 with degrees, according to a 2011 report from College Board.
On Wednesday, Duncan said the U.S. rank has dropped to 16th.
As of 2010, 477,103 Virginians in that age group - or 45 percent - had earned a college degree, up from 462,259 the year prior, according to data provided by the U.S. Education Department.
That number will have to grow to somewhere between 749,000 and 824,000 if the state is to do its part in reaching the president's goal.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, has been promoting his own initiatives to expand access to college in the state. His goal is to award an additional 100,000 degrees to Virginians over the next 15 years.
Pilot writer Julian Walker contributed to this report.
Hattie Brown Garrow, 757-222-5562, email@example.com