Early in his presidency, Barack Obama promised the United States would lead the world in college graduates by 2020 — a signature promise he’s reminded people of many times since.

But his own administration’s numbers show he won’t come close.

The goal is a key part of the president’s long-term economic plan: Only by having an educated workforce, he argues, can the country hope to stay competitive. For a president who’s running for a second term in large part on having the plans to make the right improvements to the economy, this is a central part of his argument on the central issue of the election.

But the realities of ballooning costs, budget cuts and underprepared students are in his way. If gains were to continue at the same rate they have on average for the past five years, it would take until 2036 for the country to reach Obama’s goal for 60 percent of Americans ages 25-34 to have college degrees, based on a POLITICO analysis using methodology suggested by the Education Department. In 2011, only 43.1 percent of this group had college degrees.

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