Nearly 500 public colleges and universities, including 12 in Oklahoma, signed on to an initiative that seeks to boost by 3.8 million the number of degrees awarded in the next 14 years.
But leaders also said they'd need help — including more funding from states and the federal government — to get the job done.
Project Degree Completion is a collaborative effort between the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Association of Public Land Grant Universities. The organizations launched the initiative Tuesday.
Most of Oklahoma's public four-year colleges and universities have signed on to the initiative, as has the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education.
Under the initiative, colleges and universities that are members of the groups intend to increase the number of college degrees they award each year from an estimated 14.6 million to 18.4 million by 2025. The baseline of 14.6 million degrees is based on the estimated number of college degrees the nation produced last year.
Muriel Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said the initiative is designed to boost the number of Americans who are prepared to go to work in an increasingly technology-based labor market.
Although the average education level of the nation's workforce has increased, Howard said, it hasn't kept pace with industry demand, meaning companies have a difficult time finding qualified employees. That misalignment could have severe economic implications in the future, she said.
Part of the effort involves seeking more funding from states, as well as the federal government. Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public Land Grant Universities, said he hoped the initiative would give higher education leaders leverage to argue for greater funding.
Higher education officials nationwide have expressed concern in recent months that state funding hasn't kept up with enrollment growth. According to a recent study from nonprofit group Demos, state funding for higher education nationwide has increased about $10.5 billion since 1990, but funding per student has declined by about 26 percent during the same period.