Leading By Example: Ohio and the College Completion Agenda

02/08/2012 01:08 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2012

In a recent New York Times piece, columnist Thomas Friedman shares some startling numbers on the true state of our union.

The unemployment rate for Americans with no high school diploma is 14 percent.

The unemployment rate for Americans with a high school diploma is 9 percent.

The unemployment rate for college dropouts -- 8 percent.

And the unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree -- just 4 percent.

If we want to get this country working again, we have to get back to school.

We used to lead the world in college degrees. Now we've fallen dangerously behind. That's why we've set an ambitious goal for ourselves: we want 55 percent of Americans to have a college degree by the year 2025.

It's an ambitious goal, but I've always believed those are the only ones worth setting.

That's why I was in Ohio last week as part of the State Capitals Campaign to talk about the college completion agenda and how we are going to achieve 55 by 2025.

There are a few big tactical things we can do.

We can help organize high-school sponsored college information nights, including the involvement of parents. We can help plan college outreach and recruitment visits to underserved secondary schools.

We can help build well-developed college and university information websites. And we can help encourage early college options, including community college.

But first and foremost, we need to ensure that every grade from K-12 counts towards a child's education -- that we have a coordinated strategy in place that builds skills and abilities every step of the way.

We can't keep pushing unprepared kids up the ladder, passing the buck or kicking the can down the road -- you name the metaphor, we've tried it.

From the time they enter kindergarten until the day they graduate high school, we have to prepare our students for college and a career.

As we strive to reclaim our nation's place at the peak of educational excellence, it is important to form partnerships with groups and institutions that share the same goal.

The College Board has found no more valuable partners than the people of Ohio and The Ohio State University.

Thanks to the efforts of people like Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro, OSU President Gordon Gee and thousands of dedicated Ohioans, this state has taken a giant leap towards achieving 55 by 25 and building a strong foundation for future prosperity.

The Ohio State University has been the bedrock of this state since 1870. And for the last five years the number one Buckeye has been Gordon Gee.

Under his leadership, the University established the Preferred Pathway Program, a collaboration between Columbus State Community College and The Ohio State University, which provides a guaranteed, guided route to an Ohio State bachelor's degree.

The University also developed a robust Economic Access Initiative to help first-generation and low-income students and their families overcome the financial barriers that are too often in the way of college success.

And the University has partnered with the Ohio Board of Regeants to create an outstanding new initiative called Forever Buckeyes. This program extends in-state tuition to any public or private Ohio high school graduate who leaves the state but returns to enroll in an undergraduate or graduate program at an Ohio college, and also makes a home in Ohio.

This is the kind of creative thinking and bold leadership that we need in every state and from the federal government. Will we get it? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, keep your eye on those numbers.