About 2020 - An Overview


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President Obama has set an ambitious goal of making the United States first in the world in college completion by 2020. Reaching that threshold requires immediate and bold national effort. Private higher education welcomes this challenge and pledges an even greater commitment to help all Americans who can benefit from a higher education realize the opportunity to enroll in college and complete their degrees.

To help advance this important goal, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges have engaged in a new initiative, Building Blocks to 2020. The effort highlights work by private colleges and universities to:

  • raise college enrollment and graduation rates,
  • expand college-going overall,
  • increase graduation rates in areas of national need,
  • enroll and support at-risk students and first-generation students, and
  • provide students the tools and skills they need to succeed in college.


This website reports on hundreds of programs at private colleges and universities nationally - efforts that are in place or in development to expand access to college, and to ensure degree completion. We offer these reports for several related reasons:

  • To offer ideas to colleges and universities that seek to start or expand their own programs to boost student access and success.
  • To help inform policy makers and other key stakeholders about programs that advance the United States toward the goal of being first in the world in college completion.
  • To inform policy makers, the media, and the public about meaningful initiatives in private higher education.


The personal stories of hard work and achievement that underlie these programs build on the American spirit and appeal to citizens across the political spectrum. The programs themselves exemplify many innovative paths to ensure student access to college and student success in programs of higher education.

Challenge: President Obama's 2020 goal of making the United States first in the world in college completion is ambitious and requires an immediate national effort to be realized.  Private higher education welcomes this challenge, and pledges a renewed focus to help all Americans with the desire to enroll and complete college. A decade may seem far into the future. However, in considering the time to transform a high school student or a working adult into a college graduate, 2020 is right around the corner.

Action: NAICU and the Council of Independent Colleges pledge to work together to promote a collective effort among independent colleges and universities to help the nation reach the 2020 goal. Already, private non-profit colleges have the greatest success rate of all the sectors - even when controlling for such risk factors as income, academic preparation or first-in family to attend college. However, we can and should do more. To this end, we pledge to undertake the following:

  • Survey of Current Landscape and Dissemination of Effective Programs: There is an impressive and varied array of college access and success programs that have proven lessons for all. NAICU is conducting an ongoing survey to identify innovative and successful programs that could be expanded or duplicated by others who also want to help more students finish college.

  • Expanding Proven Programs: CIC has already secured more than $5 million in grants from the Walmart Foundation for 50 institutions to expand exemplary success programs with first generation to college students.  At colleges and universities nationwide, only 24 percent of first-generation students succeed in earning a bachelor's degree compared with 68 percent of students whose parents received a bachelor's degree.  At private colleges, the completion rate for first-generation students is 61 percent.  We want to take what works and pass it on, so more at-risk students can succeed. 

  • Marking Progress: All private colleges will be encouraged to participate in the national effort by self- identifying goals or sets of goals appropriate to their missions. Along the way, each college that participates will be asked to report on its success in meeting its goals, including: (1) producing more college graduates; (2) increasing graduation or retention rates; (3) increasing success with at-risk students, or (4) increasing graduates in areas of national need.

  • Interim Summary Reports: The initial two-year progress report was issued in early 2012. Every two years an update will be issued on the initiative that will share progress being made or new programs and commitments launched.  The updates will be posted to this web site and contain more detailed information about participants and their specific efforts. 

  • Social Media: New media, such as YouTube, will be used to spread the word and share success stories. We also will develop interactive tools to allow mentors to guide others in developing their own success programs.