An influential group of college presidents, civil rights leaders and advocates sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is highlighting what it calls a growing higher education dropout crisis and seeks to fix it in part by linking financial aid with successful graduation.

“Education is an economic issue,” Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and a member of the coalition, said in a statement. “We have to build a more equitable system of higher education to make us more competitive in the world economically.”

The group's report, released Thursday and called "The American Dream 2.0," said 46 percent of America's college students and 63 percent of African American students don't graduate college within six years. Changing the $226 billion financial aid system may help improve that, the report said.

College tuition has been rising faster than inflation as states have cut contributions to higher education. Over the last decade, students have doubled total annual borrowing, from $56 billion to $113 billion in constant dollars. Many students default on the crushing debt and drop out of school. The growing inaccessibility of college, and the huge dropout rate, "is eroding the American Dream and weakening our nation's ability to compete," the report said.

The report recommends customizing financial aid to better serve part-time and other non-traditional students, and tying aid to a school's outcomes, such as graduation rates, instead of just enrollment. It points to states that include Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington that "are aligning the way they fund colleges with expectations for more student success" and outcomes that are geared toward boosting populations that have been historically underrepresented in college.

“At times over the last two decades it seems like we’ve been more comfortable doing nothing than doing something when it comes to improving federal financial aid," said Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation and a member of the group that produced the report. "But given the fiscal realities and the national imperative to increase postsecondary attainment, doing nothing comes at an increasingly higher cost to the country. Today’s structure and delivery is based on enrollment, regardless of whether or not students complete.”

The recommendation of tying financial aid to college outcomes is likely to be the report's most controversial. The White House tried to do something similar to regulate for-profit colleges, but the so-called gainful employment regulations were watered down after pressure by lobbyists and challenged in court.

The "American Dream 2.0" authors said in press materials they hope the report will be as influential as the Reagen-era "Nation at Risk," which sparked a public education Sputnik moment. The group is also releasing a poll by Hart Research Associates that found that "a college degree … is seen as important and worth it," defying public handwringing about the value of a college education. Eighty-four percent of poll respondents noted that completing college is either "absolutely essential" or "very important."

Members of the coalition include Sandy Baum, a Skidmore economist influential on higher education policy, and Christopher Edley Jr., dean of University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. It also includes Laura Fornash, Virginia education chief; Janet Murguia, National Council of La Raza president; Robert Reischauer, previous director of the Congressional Budget Office; Amy Wilkins, a vice president of the Education Trust; Ron Mason Jr., president of the Southern University System; and Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation.

Reischauer argued that federal financial aid should take lessons from health care. "The government needs to collect and annually report robust and reliable performance metrics of access, completion, costs and labor market outcomes," the authors wrote in the report.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced in September major grants to redesign financial aid. One grantee was HCM, the public affairs firm that produced Thursday's report. When word of HCM's committee got out over the summer, Inside Higher Education reported that some education policymakers were nervous that the goal of "the need for a higher financial aid return on investment" would give credibility to "short-sighted action by budget-cutting lawmakers."

Changing the financial aid system does have some public support. The Hart survey found that people who think huge changes are needed in higher education focused on cost and debt. The group conducted a nationwide online survey with 1,401 engaged voters and a telephone survey among 605 Latino and African American parents with household incomes of $50,000 or less.

African American and Hispanic parents were found to consider financial aid reform a higher priority than the general pool of engaged voters. Overall, 57 percent of engaged voters indicated that they wanted to "hold colleges and universities more accountable when they have high dropout rates." Sixty percent of engaged voters also signaled that basing financial aid on completion instead of enrollment is a "good approach to reform financial aid programs."

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Alabama - 8.7 Percent

    The Auburn University Board of Trustees approved <a href="http://www.wtvm.com/story/17648502/trustees-approve-tuition-hikes-for-auburn-and-aum" target="_hplink">an 8 percent tuition increase</a> for undergrads and a 9 percent hike for graduate students. In-state medical students at the University of Alabama will <a href="http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2012/04/tuition_increases_proposed_for.html" target="_hplink">see a 4 percent tuition</a> increase, while dental students get a 6 percent hike and 8 percent for optometry students. For other UA students, <a href="http://www.abc3340.com/story/18810386/parents-react-to-uas-tuition-hike" target="_hplink">ABC3340 reports</a> a 7 percent jump for students attending the main campus in Tuscaloosa, 8.6 jump for students at UAB and 8.7 percent at the Huntsville campus. After increasing tuition by <a href="http://www.annistonstar.com/view/full_story/18258460/article-JSU-trustees--no-tuition-increase-if-state-will-pony-up?instance=home_lead_story" target="_hplink">almost 13 percent</a> last year, Jacksonville State University promised they will hold tuition level if the state doesn't cut their funding. Alabama's public colleges and universities <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/morning_call/2012/04/tuition-increasing-4-for-in-state.html" target="_hplink">are facing a 5 percent cut</a> from state appropriations. Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alabama_Capitol_Building.jpg" target="_hplink">Carol M. Highsmith</a>

  • Arizona - No Increase

    After double digit tuition <a href="http://www.pewstates.org/projects/stateline/headlines/states-struggling-to-slow-tuition-growth-85899383588" target="_hplink">hikes in each of the past four years</a> at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, college students have some good news for the fall of 2012; a freeze on tuition for the first time in 20 years. Actually, the state will be <a href="http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/articles/2012/04/27/20120427brewer-legislative-leaders-announce-budget-deal.html" target="_hplink">pouring $21 million</a> in their public higher education institutions. Photo Credit:<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:University_of_Arizona_mall.jpg" target="_hplink"> Jscarreiro</a>

  • California - 9 Percent

    The University of California approved a 9 percent fee increase for next year. If a ballot proposition to raise taxes in November isn't approved, they may increase by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/university-of-california-tuition-hike_n_1501050.html" target="_hplink">another 6 percent</a>. UC got a 20 percent cutfrom the state this year. California State University was cut by 27 percent.

  • Florida - 8 To 15 Percent

    The University of Central Florida<a href="http://knightnews.com/2012/03/gov-rick-scott-i-dont-believe-in-tuition-increases-florida-universities/" target="_hplink"> has lost $150 million</a> the last five years, leading to job losses and the end of certain majors. Now they're <a href="http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2012/jun/03/guest-column-to-raise-or-not-to-raise-fgcu/" target="_hplink">going to implement</a> a <a href="http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-05-22/features/os-ucf-tuition-increase-20120522_1_ucf-trustees-ucf-administrators-plan-ucf-s-college" target="_hplink">15 percent tuition increase</a>. The University of Florida is looking at a <a href="http://www.ocala.com/article/20120608/ARTICLES/120609708/1402/NEWS?Title=Machen-UF-will-seek-9-percent-rather-than-15-percent-tuition-hike&tc=ar" target="_hplink">9 percent tuition hike</a>. Florida A&M University voted to raise tuition by 8 percent. Florida State University approved increasing tuition by <a href="http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/article/259403/483/FSU-trustees-approve-tuition-hike" target="_hplink">15 percent</a> across the board, but the actual cost is going up only 11.3 percent because fees aren't increasing at the same rate. Gov. Rick Scott said he is against tuition increases was, according to a spokesman, "confident [universities] can find a way to ... avoid tuition hikes that will put a greater financial strain on students and their families." He vetoed a bill that would've allowed the state's major universities to raise tuition without limits.

  • Hawaii - 35 to 46 Percent

    When it comes to tuition increases, many states have scaled back this year. However, <a href="http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/breaking/132657263.html?id=132657263" target="_hplink">Hawaii is an exception</a>: <blockquote>[A]nnual tuition at UH-Manoa will rise by 35 percent over the next five years for a resident undergraduate student -- to $11,376 a year in 2016, from the current $8,400 a year. Tuition next year will rise by $264, to $8,664. Resident tuition at UH-West Oahu will go up 49 percent over five years, to $7,656 in 2016-2017, from $5,136 this year, equal to what UH-Hilo students would pay.</blockquote> Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:UniversityHawaiiManoaCampusRoundtop.jpg" target="_hplink">Travis.Thurston</a>

  • Illinois - 4.5 Percent

    The<a href="http://capitolfax.com/2012/06/08/big-cuts-for-education-while-prison-funding-is-restored/" target="_hplink"> state legislature in Illinois</a> slashed $152 million from the higher education budget, or about 6 percent. Western Illinois University approved a <a href="http://www.wgil.com/localnews.php?xnewsaction=fullnews&newsarch=062012&newsid=84" target="_hplink">4.5 percent increase</a> on tuition for next year. The University of Illinois <a href="http://herald-review.com/business/local/illinois-state-university-considers-percent-tuition-increase/article_2c1f7974-9a62-11e1-8eb1-0019bb2963f4.html" target="_hplink">approved</a> a 4.8 percent increase and Illinois State University sought a 4.4 increase. <em>Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alma_Mater,_Lorado_Taft.jpg" target="_hplink">Daniel Schwen</a></em>

  • Iowa - 3.75 Percent

    The Board of Regents <a href="http://www.indystar.com/article/D2/20120601/NEWS02/306010031/Regents-Universities-will-make-extra-46-million-tuition-revenue?odyssey=nav|head" target="_hplink">approved a 3.75 percent tuition </a>increase this fall for the state's public universities. After having their funding from the state legislature slashed by 25 percent over the past three years. But this year, they're getting a $23 million increase from the state legislature.

  • Louisiana

    Thanks to continued budget cuts, Louisiana students can expect to get some significant tuition increases and watch out for mid-year cuts. <a href="http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/06/university_of_louisiana_system.html" target="_hplink">According</a> to the <em>Times-Picayune</em>, since 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal and state lawmakers have stripped nearly $427 million in state general funds from higher education. Nicholls State University lost $4.4 million, a 7.6 percent drop in funding from the state. They're hinting at tuition increases. The University of Louisiana System is got a cut this year of $55 million, and will likely implement tuition increases to avoid any layoffs. Community colleges will feel a pinch too. The Advocate <a href="http://theadvocate.com/home/3091481-125/colleges-poised-to-raise-tuition" target="_hplink">reports</a>: <blockquote>The Board of Supervisors at Louisiana Community and Technical Colleges ... approved an across-the-board 10 percent tuition increase at their 16 campuses, including the five technical college campuses in the Baton Rouge area.</blockquote> Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lsuaerial.jpg" target="_hplink">Stuart Adams</a>

  • Maine - No Increase

    The University of Maine system lost $2.3 million in state appropriations this year, but they <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505245_162-57438555/u-maine-system-budget-with-no-tuition-hike-okd/" target="_hplink">decided against</a> implementing tuition hikes. Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:UMaine_StevensHall.jpg" target="_hplink">NightThree</a>

  • Massachusetts - 4 Percent

    The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees plans to impose a 4.9 percent tuition hike, but Gov. Deval Patrick <a href="http://news.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view/20120606umass_panel_recommends_49_percent_tuition_hike_patrick_objects/" target="_hplink">objected the night</a> before they were to vote on it: <blockquote>"Like the rest of state government, UMass must demonstrate that it is doing more with less before asking more from students. And I am not convinced that UMass has yet done enough to find efficiencies and reduce costs so that any new revenue is dedicated to teaching and learning," Patrick wrote in his letter that was hand-delivered on the day of the vote.</blockquote> The Board passed it 10-2. Photo Credit:<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:UMass_Amherst_Pond.jpg" target="_hplink"> Lion Hirth</a>

  • Michigan - 3.95 Percent

    Eastern Michigan University are getting a 3.95 percent tuition increase. The <em>Free Press</em> <a href="http://www.freep.com/article/20120619/NEWS06/120619052" target="_hplink">reported</a> on June 19: <blockquote>University of Michigan and Michigan Technological University will set tuition rates on Thursday. Michigan State University is expected to do so on Friday. Wayne State University is expected to set its rates June 27.</blockquote> Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Biomedical_Science_Research_2010.jpg" target="_hplink">AndrewHorne</a>

  • Nebraska - 3.75 Percent

    The University of Nebraska is considering <a href="http://lexch.com/news/regional/unl-tuition-hikes-outpacing-inflation/article_be5c43ae-ae52-11e1-9b0e-0019bb2963f4.html" target="_hplink">a 3.75 percent </a>tuition hike for next year. During the past four years, UNL students have seen their tuition increase by 15 percent -- more than double the rate of inflation: <blockquote>Looking back further, to 2000, tuition and fees have grown by 115 percent, or about three times the rate of inflation. During that time frame, the consumer price index rose 34 percent.</blockquote> Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:University_of_Nebraska-Lincoln,_Hamilton_Hall.jpg" target="_hplink">Bkell</a>

  • New Jersey

    When Gov. Chris Christie took office he imposed a 4 percent tuition increase cap. Then he decided he <a href="http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/01/gov_christie_hopes_to_abolish.html" target="_hplink">didn't like that idea</a> a year later. Currently, New Jersey's public colleges have been in a bit of chaos as the<a href="http://www.nj.com/gloucester-county/index.ssf/2012/06/senate_panel_passes_rutgers-ro.html" target="_hplink"> state considers a major overhaul and merger</a>.

  • New York - 31 Percent Over 5 Years

    City University of New York is <a href="http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/cuny-protests/" target="_hplink">currently raising tuition by 31 percent </a>over five years. Undergrads will pay $6,330 in 2015-16, with about $500 a year in additional fees. Despite being much lower than nearby public universities in the Northeast, students still took to the streets to protest. State University of New York is undergoing a <a href="http://www.bupipedream.com/news/7309/suny-tuition-to-increase-300-annually-over-next-five-years/" target="_hplink">similar five-year plan</a>. Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=309102482476333&set=a.309102479143000.75516.152766071443309&type=3&theater" target="_hplink">CUNY on Facebook</a>

  • Ohio - 3.5 Percent

    Ohio State University, the University of Toledo and Cleveland State University are all planning a 3.5 percent tuition hike -- the maximum they are <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/columbus/morning_call/2012/06/university-of-toledo-hikes-tuition-by.html" target="_hplink">allowed under state law</a>. Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:University_Hall_UToledo.JPG" target="_hplink">Xurxo</a>

  • Oregon - 6.1 Percent

    The University of Oregon will have a 6.1 percent tuition increase. However, with decreased fees, it will amount to a 5.9 percent increase. Students weren't happy about that and held protests on campus. Dozens of students <a href="http://www.kmtr.com/news/local/story/UO-students-protest-tuition-hikes-earn-meeting/ui1Pddx11E-7CrALWDkJ1Q.cspx" target="_hplink">made their way into the UO president's office</a> to voice their opposition to the tuition increase.

  • Pennsylvania - 3.9 to 10 Percent

    Gov. Tom Corbett (R) put forward a budget proposal that<a href="http://pennbpc.org/pa-budget-will-spend-twice-much-prisons-higher-education" target="_hplink"> would cut the state's 14 public universities</a> by 20 percent in 2012-13, with a 34 percent reduction over two years. It's been met with <a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/state/11-arrested-as-200-protest-governors-education-funding-637309/" target="_hplink">multiple protests</a>. The state spends nearly twice as much on corrections as it does on higher ed. When asked about <a href="http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/03/12/gov-corbett-defends-higher-education-funding-cuts-in-pennsylvania/" target="_hplink">the cuts to higher education in mid-March</a>, Corbett had this to say: <blockquote>"We are reducing the funding to education because we do not have the money -- it is that simple. And I ask anybody who talks about [the fact that] we're reducing education, from the education side, to tell me where would you have me take it from? Would you have me take from the social services? Would you have me take it from law enforcement?" </blockquote> Penn State's appropriation is now equal to the amount it received in 1995, and Corbett wants to cut their budget further by taking away 50 percent of what it received in their 2011-12 appropriation. Penn State students can expect to <a href="http://www.pamatters.com/2011/06/30/tuition-will-increase-at-pennsylvanias-14-state-owned-universities/" target="_hplink">pay 7.5 percent more</a> in tuition next year. It's the highest increase since 2002. The Morning Call <a href="http://articles.mcall.com/2012-05-27/news/mc-pa-state-college-tuition-20120518_1_state-universities-tuition-increases-tuition-hikes" target="_hplink">reports</a>: <blockquote>This year, in the face of record budget cuts, state-owned universities such as Kutztown and East Stroudsburg ratcheted up tuition by 7.5 percent while Temple University's tuition spiked 10 percent.</blockquote> The University of Pennsylvania will increase tuition by <a href="http://www.upenn.edu/almanac/volumes/v58/n23/tuition.html" target="_hplink">3.9 percent</a>. Photo Credit: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harrisburg_Pennsylvania_USA.jpg" target="_hplink">Pollinator</a>

  • South Carolina - 1 to 3.15 Percent

    The University of South Carolina is planning <a href="http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/06/15/3321706_usc-to-hike-tuition-by-315-percent.html#storylink=cpy" target="_hplink">its smallest tuition hike</a> in recent years for in-state students, with a 3.15 percent increase. Out-of-state students will see a 4.9 percent increase, which is the largest tuition increase in the state this year. Despite the smaller increase this year, the price of tuition has more than doubled since 2002. The Charlotte <em>Observer</em> reports state support of USC Columbia has fallen to $90 million from $230 million since 2008. South Carolina State will have no change this year. Other South Carolina public colleges will increase tuition by 1 to 3 percent for next year. Coastal Carolina is actually reducing its tuition by 1 percent. Photo Credit:<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WestQuad.jpg" target="_hplink"> Florencebballer</a>

  • South Dakota - 5.8 Percent

    The average tuition increase this year <a href="http://madvilletimes.com/2012/05/south-dakota-has-regions-highest-tuition-increases/" target="_hplink">will be 5.8 percent</a>, the highest in the northern Midwestern Great Plains states. Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150624980810939&set=a.10150624980665939.381444.267498065938&type=3&theater" target="_hplink">USD's Facebook</a>

  • Tennessee - 3.4 to 8 Percent

    The University of Tennessee <a href="http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/f2ceabb8772d4a708f40a89905bbf54b/TN--UT-Tuition" target="_hplink">proposed tuition hikes</a> of 8 percent at the Knoxville campus, 6 percent at Chattanooga and Martin, and 4 percent at the Health Science Center. The Tennessee Board of Regents recommended tuition increases across the state. The AP <a href="http://www.wpsdlocal6.com/news/local/Tuition-hikes-recommended-at-Tennessee-colleges-158838055.html" target="_hplink">reports</a> East Tennessee State University would get the highest increase at 7.2 percent. Austin Peay was the lowest at 3.4 percent. Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:UT-mall.jpg" target="_hplink">Zereshk</a>

  • Texas - 2.5 to 3.8 Percent

    Students at the University of Texas could be <a href="http://www.chron.com/news/article/A-amp-M-UT-tuition-hikes-3524968.php" target="_hplink">facing tuition increases </a>of between 2.5 percent to 3.8 percent in the coming years. The Houston <em>Chronicle </em>reports "that would mean an increase from the current $4,896 per semester to $5,154 by fall 2013. Non-resident students would see tuition jump from $16,190 per semester to $17,377 by fall 2013." But the UT Board of Regents voted not to implement tuition hikes, leading a <a href="http://www.burntorangereport.com/diary/12249/aggie-governor-who-cannot-count-to-three-trying-to-oust-university-of-texas-president" target="_hplink">faceoff between UT president Bill Powers and the board</a>. The Texas Legislature deregulated tuition in 2003.

  • Virginia - 3.7 to 4.7 Percent

    The University of Virginia's Board of Visitors <a href="http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=18076" target="_hplink">approved the smallest increase</a> in a decade for in-state tuition and mandatory fees with a 3.7 percent hike. The high from the past decade was in 2004 when they implemented a 19 percent increase. <a href="http://hamptonroads.com/2012/05/va-tech-instate-tuition-increase-39-percent" target="_hplink">Virginia Tech increased tuition</a> by 3.9 percent. Virginia State University decided in a special meeting to lowered the increase in tuition and all mandatory fees from 6.6 percent to 4.7 percent for in state Virginia undergraduates. Gov. Bob McDonnell urged the state's universities to <a href="http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/state-news/2012/may/23/tdmet05-vsu-lowers-tuition-increase-ar-1935437/" target="_hplink">keep increases at or below the Consumer Price Index</a> (2.7 Percent) which is lower than the Higher Education Price Index.

  • Washington

    Washington State University is raising tuition by 16 percent for the <a href="http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/education/2018144362_tuition05m.html" target="_hplink">second year in a row</a>. The University of Washington plans a 16 percent increase after raising tuition 20 percent last year. The AP reports Western, Eastern and Central Washington universities, and The Evergreen State College, all made two-year tuition decisions last summer after the Legislature decided to put tuition increases of up to 16 percent into the state's two-year budget.

  • West Virginia - 5 Percent

    West Virginia University students are looking at a 5 percent tuition bump. However, the total cost per semester for in-state residents will only be $3,045 <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505245_162-57449091/wvu-board-oks-5-percent-tuition-increase/" target="_hplink">after the increase</a>: <blockquote>The increases are slightly smaller at Potomac State College in Keyser and the WVU Institute of Technology in Montgomery. Both resident and nonresident undergraduates at Potomac State will pay $72 more per semester. At WVU Tech, residents will pay $107 more per semester, while nonresidents will pay $268 more. The board also approved a one-time fee of $63 per semester to replace all the individual course fees that students were once charged.</blockquote> Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Woodburn_hall_wvu.jpg" target="_hplink">Swimmerguy269</a>

  • Wisconsin - 5.5 Percent

    If the Board of Regents approves a <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/uwmadison-tuition-would-top-10000-if-increase-okd-kj5lae6-156998885.html" target="_hplink">5.5 percent increase</a>, the University of Wisconsin-Madison tuition and fees may top $10,000 for in-state students, and UW-Milwaukee would be close behind. It would be the 6th consecutive year UW System President Kevin Reilly has recommended a 5.5 percent increase for all UW campuses: <blockquote>Higher tuition has helped offset less than a third of state funding cuts, according to UW System officials. Universities gained savings from state budget provisions that imposed higher costs on state employees for benefits. They also gained savings through flexibilitities from state rules regarding purchasing, contracts and other areas.</blockquote> Photo Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Memorial_Union_and_quadrangle.jpg" target="_hplink">Vonbloompasha </a>