Monday, June 09, 2008

Graduating (or not) from college

You can write me down as oblivious if you want, I suppose, but in working on a new project of mine I am looking at undergraduate dropout rates in public universities--I had no idea they were so high! Perhaps that is because I went to the University of Washington-Seattle, where the six-year completion rate for a bachelor's degree (for first-time, full-time students) is 75 percent--as opposed to 56 percent at Arizona State, or 42 percent at Sac State, or 12 percent at Texas Southern University.

Now TSU, for one, has been in the headlines in Houston recently for scandals involving the administration--but also because they may finally adopt admission standards. All that's been needed to get into TSU is a high school diploma. Now, it must be said that TSU's mission has been to educate the African-American community, and not to leave people behind--and there's obviously value to that mission, but if students are to succeed, it means the institution spends lots of money just getting them ready to be freshmen.

I'm not picking on TSU--they're just needing to find a better way to fulfill their valuable mission. Not surprisingly, there seems to be a very clear correlation between standardized test scores of entering freshmen and graduation rate. So...

  • are entering freshmen just not prepared because of subpar schools and/or home resources etc., or
  • are lower SAT/ACT scores not the important variable, but rather correlated to lower SES, which then creates financial difficulties in continuing with college, or
  • are lots of people who never wanted to be in college in the first place just leaving, and it's not mainly a preparation issue, or ...
I'm sure there are a million individual reasons why people don't graduate from college. But this raises the question--if these entering freshmen don't want to be in college, what do they actually want to do, and is there a better use of resources that will get them there?

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