Graduation rates at most universities is a disgrace. Fewer than 60% of college students graduate in six years. Many of the rest never do earn a bachelor’s degree.
I’ve written about low graduation rates many times (see links below) and it’s always struck me as unfair that so many educators blame this tragedy solely on the students. That’s why I was intrigued to read the results of a new study that suggests that it’s the universities, and specifically state universities, which are the main culprits behind the lack of college success.
Here are some specifics:
Three academics from Cornell, University of Michigan and University of Virginia, attempted to answer the question they posed in their research paper’s title: Why Have College Completion Rates Declined? An Analysis of Changing Student Preparation and Collegiate Resources.
The researchers examined the graduation track record of students attending college in the 1970s and the 1990s. They acknowledged that more students were choosing college an option in the 1990s, which naturally brought more poorly prepared students onto college campuses. The authors, however, said the increased number of college-bound students only accounted for a third of the decline of college graduation rates because these students tended to enroll at community colleges.
Actually, the researchers suggested that the biggest problem has been occurring at less selective public universities, which they defined as universities not among the top 50 flagship institutions.
The students attending these less selective state universities in the 1990s had modestly higher SAT scores than the previous generation, but their graduation rates still declined.
So what happened? While more students were pouring into state universities, the funding didn’t keep up with the needs. These public universities kept accepting more students, while their budgets never kept pace. That led to bigger classes, fewer support services and fewer chances of college success. (It’s a phenomenon that’s even more pronounced today.)
In contrast, state flagships and private colleges tended to meet the greater crush of students wanting to attend by growing more selective. Unlike most state universities, the student-faculty ratio improved at flagships and the expenditures per student went up.
Clearly in this higher-ed world there are have’s and have not’s. In an interview in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sarah E. Turner, a professor of education and economics at the University of Virginia and one of the study’s authors made this observation:
“One of the big stories here is increased stratification. The most selective institutions are gaining resources, but the picture is very different at other colleges.”
If your child hopes to attend a state university, it’s important that you evaluate the school in terms of chances for college success. Below you’ll find some links to college blog posts that I’ve written on this critical subject.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.
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