Increasing the proportion of the adult population with a higher-education degree is critical to creating opportunities for individuals and sustaining the US’ economic growth. Yet college attainment rates in the US have remained nearly flat for the past 10 years, whereas they have continued to rise in most industrialized nations. Increasing college attainment and degree production in the US will be even more challenging in a time of constrained resources. McKinsey’s new research, Winning by Degrees: the strategies of highly productive higher education institutions shows that it is possible to achieve significant increases in college attainment, if the nation can apply 5 winning strategies already implemented by highly productive colleges and universities in the country. Our key findings are:
- We estimate that the US needs to graduate roughly one million more people a year by 2020 to ensure that the country has the skilled workers it needs to maintain economic growth. If nothing changes in the productivity of higher education institutions — by which we mean the number of students who complete degrees versus its total costs — this means an additional $52 billion a year could be required (unlikely given the current financial climate)
- In light of the challenging environment for higher education spending and in order to achieve this without increasing public expenditures or compromising quality, US higher education institutions would need to improve their degree completion productivity by an average of 23 percent. This productivity improvements sounds like a formidable challenge, but it is feasible through a combination of boosting graduation rates and improving cost efficiency as has been demonstrated by top quartile US institutions which already are 17 to 38 percent more productive than average
- Through an in-depth study of eight highly productive two-year, and four-year colleges and universities– with productivity 32 to 60 percent higher than average–we identified five winning strategies, focusing on raising the rate at which students complete their degrees and improving cost efficiency.
We believe that the growing number of innovative institutions that are able to achieve outstanding levels of degree productivity can serve as models for other institutions and provide possible solutions to the expansion of the US graduate pool. Our findings will hopefully contribute to the field by providing some insight and strategies that the nation could adopt.