Newly released figures show Oregon college enrollment rates are not just far below Gov. John Kitzhaber’s goals, but also significantly below the national average.

The National Student Clearinghouse reports that only 61 percent of students from Oregon’s high school class of 2011 were enrolled in college or community college by the fall of 2012, according to a report in The Oregonian. The national comparison is 68 percent.

Kitzhaber has set a statewide goal to have 80 percent of Oregonians earn a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2025. If only 61 percent were even enrolled in 2012, the state has a long way to go.

The new figures suggest the governor has correctly targeted a critical state issue. We need to understand why Oregon’s enrollment rate lags the national average and close the gap.

In Central Oregon, rates ranged from 74 percent in Sisters to 42 percent in Culver. Other districts’ numbers were 62 percent in Bend-La Pine, 50 percent in Redmond and Crook County, and 47 percent in Jefferson County.

Although lower enrollment rates often come from districts with more low-income students, the newspaper found exceptions. In the David Douglas district, for example, the student population is 73 percent low-income, but 62 percent enrolled in college or community college. Other districts with similar low-income populations had enrollment rates in the 40s.

State schools chief Rob Saxton told The Oregonian that students need rigorous classwork, and districts must set expectations and provide practical advice to students with no family history of higher education.

We fully support the idea of assuring every capable student the chance to get a post-secondary education, but a single focus on the granting of degrees and certificates has risks as well.

First is the danger of dumbing down the degrees because the system rewards the granting of them, not the learning they represent. It’s also critical to assure that vocational and apprenticeship programs get sufficient attention.

The goal should be an appropriate education for every student, which does not always involve a post-secondary degree.