Colleges Are Failing in Graduation Rates

CAROL’S SUMMARY: In the United States only half of students who enroll in college end up with a bachelor’s degree. Italy is the only rich country with a worse college graduation rate. In a new book titled, “Crossing the Finish Line,” authors William Bowen (an economist and former Princeton president) and Michael McPherson (an economist and former Macalester College president) analyze the data of about 200,000 students at 68 colleges.

Although the book’s statistics are alarming, there is hope. Instead of requiring a total overhaul of today’s educational system, McPherson and Bowen suggest large strides can be made if institutions shift their focus from enrollment to completion and become accountable for their failures. The first problem “Crossing the Finish Line” identifies is under-matching. According to the article below, under-matching refers to “students who choose not to attend the best college they can get into. They instead go to a less selective one, perhaps one that’s closer to home or, given the torturous financial aid process, less expensive.” To combat this, the Obama Education Department now informs students of the graduation rate at any college in which they express interest when they fill out an online form for federal financial aid.
College graduation is important to career success. According to the Labor Department, last year workers with bachelor’s degrees made 54 percent more on average than those who attended college but didn’t finish. When people, especially students fresh out of college, enter the workforce and contribute to society, everyone benefits.

What can high schools do to prevent students from under-matching themselves with colleges?

How can colleges and universities shift their focus from enrollment to completion and balance these efforts on both fronts?

In addition to implementing student success and transition programs at the high school level, what else can we do to improve our nation’s college graduation rates at public institutions?

September 9, 2009
Economic Scene
The New York Times
Colleges Are Failing in Graduation Rates

If you were going to come up with a list of organizations whose failures had done the most damage to the American economy in recent years, you’d probably have to start with the Wall Street firms and regulatory agencies that brought us the financial crisis. From there, you might move on to Wall Street’s fellow bailout recipients in Detroit, the once-Big Three.

But I would suggest that the list should also include a less obvious nominee: public universities.

At its top levels, the American system of higher education may be the best in the world. Yet in terms of its core mission — turning teenagers into educated college graduates — much of the system is simply failing.

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