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Across the country, mayors and governors have played with carrot/stick policies that offer cash rewards to students who thrive. Now the White House is offering sweeteners the same sweeteners for successful colleges.

Three of four Americans pursue some form of post-secondary education, but only 42% of 25-34 year olds earned college degrees. Half the students who enter college exit with a degree. To pull the success rate above 60% (even 70%? 80%?), the administration has launched a new sweepstakes for money-starved states: More than $100 million in carrots for school programs that "hold down tuition, increase completion rates and move students through college faster."

"We all know that the best jobs and fastest-growing firms will gravitate to countries, communities and states with a highly qualified work force," Mr. Duncan said.

The administration will calculate each state's expected share of the eight-million-graduate increase, taking into account their current college graduation rates. Currently, only 28 percent of young adults in Arkansas, Nevada and New Mexico have college degrees, compared with more than half in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and North Dakota.

The administration is also releasing what it calls a tool kit of strategies to help governors meet those goals, like stabilizing tuition increases, singling out adults with some college experience but no degree and making it easier for students to transfer college credits.

Read the full story in the New York Times.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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