College drop-outs

Of 100 ninth-graders, only 18 will go on to college and complete a degree in six years, a new study reports.

“Colleges have to take seriously the responsibility for graduating the kids they admit,” says Thomas Mortenson, an analyst with the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. “And if they don’t, maybe they ought to pick up the student loan burden of the people who don’t finish.”

College costs, which are rising much faster than inflation, and poor preparation are to blame, says the report. Some states are trying to motivate students to start preparing early for college.

Indiana is striking a bargain with its poor and lower-middle-class eighth graders: Maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average through high school, stay out of drugs and alcohol, and take the right set of classes, and we’ll pay your in-state college tuition.

I like the idea of getting students focused on college prep in middle school, but a C average isn’t very high in these days of grade inflation. Indiana is just now studying whether the program is affecting college completion rates.

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  1. As a college professor, yes, I understand our need to increase retention. But. It is hard to have high retention rates and sufficient academic rigor when the admissions standards are lax (especially for athletes). Or when students are allowed to coast through high school, get all As, and then wonder why they are getting Cs in their college classes.

    I think one thing we need to do in this country is de-stigmatize “non college” options – trade schools, community colleges, co-op learning in high school. Not everyone needs or wants a college degree but the unspoken assumption is that everyone should have one.

    We (the colleges and universities) shouldn’t have to have extensive “remediation” classes for students who come out of the public school system with reading, math, science, whatever deficiencies. But we do, and we are told we “have to” remediate students who come to college unprepared.

    I’d be interested in seeing how many of that 82% who do not successfully graduate had to take extensive remediation – suggesting they were not adequately prepared for college.

    I know this sounds like “blame the people below you” but it’s frustrating to have to read a student part of an exam because he doesn’t know several of the two-syllable words on it.

  2. Wouldn’t 9th graders normally be expected to complete a 4-year college degree in 8 years? Or do you mean that of current 9th graders 18% can be expected to complete a 4-year college degree in 6 years of college?

  3. Jason Bontrager says:

    If college costs are increasing so quickly, that would indicate that new colleges need to be built. So is this not happening? If not, why not?

  4. “…maybe they ought to pick up the student loan burden of the people who don’t finish.”

    Maybe they ought to let the students take some responsibility for their actions.

  5. wayne martin says:

    One of the goals of the Democrats returned to Congressional power is to “Increase access to college by lowering tuition costs.” There’s no evidence that people who want “increased access” ever speak to the opinion of almost non-existent results. Over the past couple of weeks data from various sources was posted in this Blog about low graduation rates at the CSU and California Community Colleges – about 10% for the CSU System and about 15% (goal-oriented completion rates) for the CCC. The reflection of these results at the national level should be no surprise. The problem is that no one at the top (Congress and State Legislatures) seems to care, or are wholly bought and paid for by Education providers and education-oriented labor unions.

    Education is big business at 7.5% of the GDP (about $1T dollars yearly). A vast portion of this spending is in capital projects which attracts construction industry support for bond measures which might not be needed if there are a sense of responsibility about the “college-for-all” mindset that infects the Democrats. The underlying financial analysis sees a lot of money “piped” through college students who will never graduate into the education industry that redistributes this money to teaching staff, non-teaching staff, and the construction industry.

    The low graduation rates, linked to lax entry-level admissions requirements, if tightened up, might well shake the very foundations of the Universities if there were suddenly a reduction in the poll of applicants. We saw that when the Federal Government tightened up the entry requirements for foreign students, and College Presidents couldn’t get to DC fast enough to plead for the “good old days” of pre-9/11.

    While the arguments that “college for all” is a political winner, as public policy linked to real world financial issues—it’s a loser. A complete rethinking of our higher education system is long overdue.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    An acquaintance of mine, a high school teacher, remarked that when the Maytag guy deigns to show up, he gets $85 an hour.

    I have a client who is a young family man. He’s a cement laborer and made $55,000 last year, not counting bonus, in an area of the country with a modest cost of living. His wife, studying to become a teacher, works for the DMV, with good pay and good benefits.

    I admired their new hardwood floor, since we’re looking into new flooring. It was hardwood, not engineered. Do you know what that costs? IMO, they’re doing nicely and don’t have the college failure in their self-image.

    They can’t outsource bricklaying.

  7. Half Canadian says:

    I agree with Ricki and Richard Aubrey that non-college trades are nothing to sneeze at. A good plumber deserves their pay, along with carpenters, etc. These jobs require a good level of skill and result in a good middle-class living.

    One critique that I have with the study is the notion that 9th graders should graduate from college in 6 years later. I’m assuming they mean students just finishing 9th grade, which means 3 years to finish high school and 3 years to finish college. Is this a valid expectation? They’re called 4-year degrees because we expect them to take 4 years. As it is, a the federal government measures graduation rates for 4-year degrees in 6 year increments. To say that we have a problem because 18% of students get a degree in 3 years just doesn’t seem like something to worry about.

  8. I assumed it was poorly worded; I find it hard to believe that 18% of college students finish when they’re 20. I think it was supposed to mean that 18% of ninth-graders will finish college within six years of graduating high school. That I find easier to believe.

  9. Yes, I meant to say only 18 percent will enroll in college and graduate in six years. I’ve fixed the post.

  10. tim from texas says:

    Most of what is learned by students in the first 4 yrs of college could and should be learned by the time they graduatwe from high-school.

    The first years of college are just a tax on top of all the other taxes and money spent for k-12.

  11. Interesting post, and interesting comments.

    One thing these studies never seem to address is the situation my wife and I had with our youngest son: even with the smarter kids, it’s often a matter of maturity.

    He loafed through high school with mediocre grades because he was not challenged much and didn’t have to work at all. He enrolled in a community college, and dropped courses; enrolled and dropped courses…and that went on for about five years, while his mother and I fretted and worred about his future. We encouraged him to take up a trade — anything to break the pattern.

    But he grew up. And quite by accident, he discovered economics — and three years later, he graduted from a state college with a degree in economics. He’s 32 now, and doing just fine, thank you.

  12. take 2 since the first post vanished

    one of the observations is that the mission to study “Maintaining Higher Education Access and Affordability in Tight Fiscal Times” can be a hammer that makes every problem look like a nail. A big issue is college readiness in the high school, as Tim in Texas. Here’s what a closer look at the data shows:

    Looking at the class of 2005 for the state of California, most of the attrition has occured by high school. Let’s track the cohort from 9th grade through high school graduation:

    grade 09 499,505 100%
    grade 10 471,726 94%
    grade 11 441,316 88%
    grade 12 409,560 82%
    graduate 355,231 71%
    CSU ready 124,984 25%


    and that ignoring any attrition in college entrance or 6 years of college.

  13. Walter E. Wallis says:

    For some, the discipline of showing up for a job is better learned earlier. To subject them to an aimless wandering in college does them a disservice.

  14. Wow. Where’s my pingback?

    “As a college professor, yes, I understand our need to increase retention.”

    Uhm, why are universities responsible for students who choose of their own free will to drop out? I hear this stuff on campus all the time, and sorry, I don’t buy it. The students and only the students are responsible for whether they graduate or not. The university shares no responsibility for this, and should not.

  15. wayne martin says:

    > The university shares no responsibility for this, and should not.

    If the University opens its doors to people it reasonably expects not to finish because of inadequate preparation, why is this not a wilful and knowing act of a business entity that might be viewed in some light as akin to fraud?

  16. Half Canadian says:

    rightwingprof, I’d disagree. Universities have a duty to provide clear instruction on subject matters and clear guidlines on what is required to graduate (what classes for what degree). I’m sure we’ve all had instructors (in or out of college) who were poor teachers, much less poor test writers. Being a great teacher won’t get you tenure, yet this the reason why colleges are there (to teach people about X).

    Part of the problem is that it is difficult to quantify good instruction, while it is easier to evaluate scholarship. But having had to suffer through poor instructors in college, I can understand why some students choose to leave, and part of the fault should lay with the college.

  17. If college costs are going up much faster than the rate of inflation then, by a classical economics argument, too many people are attending college.
    Cheap college loans make it artificially easy to attend college thereby creating demand. Colleges respond by raising their rates accordingly creating the inflation. The dropout rate can be seen as reflecting the fact that many students enter college without clear goals. Lacking such goals they sooner or later realize they are piling up debt to no apparent purpose, so they quite naturally drop out. They aren’t getting real value for their money.
    It seems to me that colleges would be better advised to admit fewer, more focused students and provide real evidence that the education they are receiving is worth the cost. Colleges, students and parents(who pay for a lot of college education and insist their children attend college) all need to take responsibility for getting a student through college.

  18. “Universities have a duty to provide clear instruction on subject matters and clear guidlines on what is required to graduate (what classes for what degree).”

    We do. Very clear. It’s the students who don’t believe you when you say, “NO LATE ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED EVER MEANS NO LATE ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED EVER.” It’s the students who don’t have good study habits, or refuse to believe that they can’t skate by doing nothing like they always did in high school and get an A. University students are legal adults. They are responsible for whether they continue or not, and how they do at the university. And yes, even students who are recruited and are ill prepared (nearly all drop out after the first year) are solely responsible.

    Frankly, I’m sick of having to teach my students high school math because they didn’t learn it in high school. We have quite enough to do as it is, and I don’t get paid any extra money, as a union school teacher would, for working hours outside the classroom bringing my students up to where they have to be to pass my class. This whole notion of shifting responsibility further off the students — which is where it belongs, even if those students are in grade school — and pushing onto the shoulders of the university is sheer idiocy.

    When I was a child, had I come home and whined about one of my teachers, I would have been whipped for it. My parents would not let us ever shove our resonsibility onto somebody else, not even when we were in grade school. That’s precisely why we were all straight-A students.

    Yes, I had bad teachers. But I learned in spite of them, precisely because learning — and grades — were my responsibility, and my responsibility alone. In grade school, in high school, and at the university.

  19. Half Canadian says:

    rightwingprof, are you ever evaluated on how good of an instructor you are? Has a college professor (particularly one who has been tenured) ever been fired for being a poor instructor?

    I whole-heartedly share you frustration with supposed high school graduates who haven’t mastered high-school subjects. This is fraud and I wish it were treated like that. I also suspect that a good deal of the attrition in colleges is due to students who don’t have the skills that a high school diploma states that they should.

    But as it stands, universities and colleges are quite willing to take our money but they don’t want any accountability after they took it. If they want federal money (and that includes student loans and grants) they aught to at least show some accountability for sucking at the taxpayer’s teat.

  20. “rightwingprof, are you ever evaluated on how good of an instructor you are?”

    I am. Not only have I won several campus teaching awards, but I get very high evaluations from my students. And my courses are rigorous.

    Your point?

  21. wow thats very interesting i hope my daughter goes to college

  22. Pisssed Off Parent says:

    Universities and colleges need to come out of the ozone and learn to live in the real world. Tell me another enterprise (besides government) that would be allowed to provide a continually degrading product, change more for it year after year…..and then lay the blame for their failure on their clients…in this case, the students.

    In reality, most institutions of higher learning (term used advisedly) have plenty of money; though they never want you to believe that as they reach into your pocket for more, more, more. The sad fact is, they just don’t want to spend their money on educating students. Why do they raising tuition and related costs as they pander to anyone and everyone who looks like a prospective “donor”? Because they would rather put their money into impressive buildings or some spectacular project that has little or nothing to do with education. They reason that this gives their university prestige and makes it a better place for everyone. Tell that to the freshman who is paying $20,000 to sit in classes with 100 to 150 students who listen to some boring TA drone on and on and on.

    After dropping out twice, I graduated from high school with a D average. I went on to junior college and subsequently attended two major universities. I graduated from grad school 3rd in my class. What made me see the light? I had some very caring professors who took the time and trouble to help when I needed it most. They were not complaining about how poorly prepared I was. Instead, they knew their job was to teach. They did it well and enjoyed it too.

    What the hell has happend?



    My experience with this contrast, it seems, were hardly unique. From Joanne Jacobs Education blog, we have this story, telling how of 100 ninth graders this year, 18 will graduate from college:…