Education professionals from around the state will gather in Des Moines today for a conference on improving access to college. Greg Darnieder with the U.S. Department of Education will deliver the keynote address at 9 a.m. He works directly with school districts to develop programs designed to prep K-12 students for college.

“I think it all starts with academic preparation and students taking the right courses, particularly in high school, and being exposed to higher education through strategies such as dual credit and early college enrollment,” Darnieder told Radio Iowa. President Obama has set a goal for the United States to lead the world in college degree attainment within 10 years.

Darnieder says it would require most American adults to obtain a degree. “Currently, as a nation, we’re at 38 or 39-percent. The president has challenged us to get to 60-percent by the year 2020,” Darnieder said. Enrollment in Iowa’s colleges and universities is at record levels.

Darnieder says it’s a trend he’s seeing across the country as high schoolers realize they’ll need more than a diploma to land a good paying job. Many displaced adult workers are also enrolling in college as they pursue a change in careers. Darnieder says his address today before Iowa College Access and Success Conference will include a pitch for superintendents and other school administrators to record and measure the impact their programs are having on placing students in college.

“As districts and states develop their state’s data systems, there’s increased capacity to do deeper and deeper analytic work to find out the impact of any program strategy,” Darnieder said. The Iowa College Access and Success Conference is taking place at the Des Moines Airport Holiday Inn.