Graduation Rates

The current push in our state is to improve college graduation rates. Who could argue that is a bad thing? Having more students succeed in college is a good thing. The problem is assessing the performance of the state universities by looking primarily at graduation rates. Why? Simply - if the goal is to just raise graduation rates, that is easy to do. Just make sure more students pass. Is this really what we want? I think not.

Louisiana Governor Ricky Bobby Jindal compared the poor graduation rates of the state universities to a football coach without a winning season hinting that you would get a new coach. He hints that the problem with low graduation rates lies mostly with the institutions. Sure, we have a lot to do with this. We can provide more services and help for students, but all of this can't be blamed on higher education. According to the 2008 ACT College Readiness Report only 14% of Louisiana students meet the benchmarks for college readiness in all areas. Should it be so surprising that our graduation rate is only something like 25%? Oh - also, I would like to point out another problem with Ricky's analogy. The average winning rate for coaches is 50% (for every win, there is a loss).

So, what should we do? What can we do? I think step one is to think about the purpose of college (and high school and education). This is really what people get all warped about. Education should not be job training, it should not be an entrance requirement for certain jobs. As I have said before, education is about being human. But, there is stuff we can do. Help students. Help them help themselves. Think more about education of our future teachers.

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I'm a graduate (Masters) student at one of the California State University campuses (the second tier University system in CA). Because I changed careers, I took a lot of upper-division undergraduate classes in my current major. I was appalled at the readiness of my classmates to do upper division work. In many cases they still hadn't taken freshman-level calculus (because one needed to be a senior to have enough enrollment status to get into the class); several of them were still struggling with "writing 101". These weren't the bottom of the barrel -- they could grasp many of the major concepts easily -- but they were fighting with both hands tied behind their backs.
They came to college unprepared and they weren't able to get that preparation in college until they were far enough along to be taking upper-division classes.

Hey, I know one sure-fire way to increase graduation rates: require full payment up front for at least four years. That way nobody has to leave for lack of funds.

Probably screens out a lot of the "wrong types" too.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 02 Apr 2010 #permalink

Something I note from doing program reviews at Career and Technical schools in RI (This is high school level btw) is that a strong advisory capability seems to keep kids on track.

I gleaned that from the review of the internship program at The MET School in Providence, RI. They have serious advisory capability and in the case of the one student I met, the advisor was able to understand the students passions and abilities and get him into an internship where he's happy as a clam.

He's tearing down and rebuilding aircraft.

When I was teaching at a State University the governor got on our (the state schools) case about "4 year graduation rate" completely ignoring that since our tuition was actually affordable, many students were working to pay their way, but that meant that they were taking 12 or 13 credits a semester, making 4 year graduation impossible. Add in the Great Recession and it's no surprise that some might prefer to pay for necessities over education.

By Least Action (not verified) on 03 Apr 2010 #permalink

It's unfortunate that many universities treat their students as a source of income. If graduation rates are higher, students pay tuition for longer, plus it may attract more students to the university, since high graduation rate means they have a better chance of coming out with a degree (in their eyes).

I think this aspect is impossible to work around, and universities will do whatever they can to ensure high graduation rate, regardless of if the students are prepared to graduate or not.

Since the attitude of the universities is hard to change, one thing we can do is try to prevent students from moving on unprepared. I mean, if they're going to graduate regardless of whether they know their stuff, we might as well teach them something while they're there. Instead of complaining, ensure that students are getting the help they need, so they truly deserve that passing grade they get.

Does your governor know that a coach can recruit specific individuals and pay their tuition, but your college "selects" over 90% of the kids who apply and they have to work to pay their tuition? Does he know that the new coach (e.g. Calipari at Kentucky) can simply fire almost half of the students he has on scholarship and bring in new ones?

I'll bet he doesn't, and I'll bet your graduation rate would go way up if you could offer the equivalent of an NCAA scholarship to every student who might major in science, and select only the best ones! It would help even more if your graduation rate was figured like the NCAA "APR" where kicking a student out will not count as a failure if he is in good standing. Imagine if you could replace a C average sophomore with an A average freshman and not have it count against your graduation rate!

But the problem you really have is that Jindal probably believes the NCLB propaganda, and has no idea how ill-prepared the average HS graduate is for college-level work, particularly in math.

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 05 Apr 2010 #permalink

We seem to be flooded with bad analogies: Students are like light bulbs, University Presidents are like coaches, Joe's like a plumber, Gov. Jindal is like a ficticious comedic race car driver, physicists are like politicians.

The problem with Southeastern Louisiana's graduation rate is Tangipahoa Parish's bad public schools specifically and Louisiana's bad public schools generally.

I am not like a genius.

I think a major issue is the push that you MUST BE A COLLEGE GRADUATE in order to be "successful and happy" these days, so tons of students flood universities who can't read, can't write a simple 5 paragraph essay, or can't add and subtract fractions.

I also don't think that Tangipahoa Parish's public schools are bad per se. I went to Ponchatoula and came out alright. Though I do think a different approach needs to be taken for teaching math in general. Two years to teach algebra? Come on that's ridiculous. I was also NEVER introduced to complex numbers until optics last semester. Or if I was introduced in high school. . .I slept through it.

Just my two cents while I have nothing to do working in the library

To me, improving graduation rates is an easy problem to fix. I would unify all Postsecondary education(college & vocational) institutions under one of their respective Regionally Accredited Colleges/Universities main six organizations. This would double the number of qualified sophomore class members, and eventually lead to a higher number of 4yr degree holders. Why should anyoneâs initial 2yr degree not be accepted by Southeastern Louisiana University? Why do Governorâs allow educational organizations to issues degrees that are not recognized by other educational institutions in their own state?


I agree - that is silly. Really, it would probably be best if all the state institution's credits automatically transferred. However, not everyone offers the exact same courses. For instance, we have physics lecture and lab as two separate courses - but some institutions have them as the same course.

I guess it would be great if we could just re-boot all the courses and start over.