In the name of access, many community colleges set students up to fail by allowing late enrollment and letting unprepared students take college-level courses, an administrator writes.
Jamaal Abdul-alim earned a journalism degree at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He returned, writing for the Washington Monthly, to ask why only 19 percent of black students complete a degree in six years, half the rate for the university as a whole. Why did he make it when so many fail?
UWM admits more than 90 percent of applicants, but its graduation rates are low compared to other nonselective universities, he writes. Bowling Green State University in Ohio, which admits 80 percent of students, graduates 50 percent of black students within six years. Nationally, the black graduation rate is 31.2 percent.
Abdul-alim had one huge advantage over most of his black classmates: “strong familial and financial support.”
My father . . . worked for Wisconsin Bell . . . From the earliest days of my childhood, I remember my father talking about the need for me to “go further” than he did educationally, how he enrolled in a technical college once but was distracted by wanting to hang out with his buddies in a pool hall in his hometown.
My mother, a woman of Polish descent from Milwaukee’s South Side, investigated insurance claims for Blue Cross Blue Shield. She was always taking me on trips to museums and the like and exposed me to a wide variety of books, such as Manchild in the Promised Land, which she required her only son to read once he started to veer toward trouble in school and in the streets. I had my own desk and shelves full of books for as far back as I can remember. My parents earned enough to invest in a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica for me back when encyclopedia salesmen still went door to door.
Still, his predominantly black high school didn’t demand much of students. He transferred to a predominantly white high school to get a better education, but “couldn’t hack” the rigor and transferred back.
At UWM, he barely passed remedial algebra, then failed college-level algebra three times, before passing an intensive summer course at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).
Math is a significant barrier to black students at UWM, Abdul-alim found. He met a young newspaper reporter who completed a journalism degree — except for the math requirement. While she tries to pass math, she’s starting to make payments on $34,000 in student loan debt.
Weak academic preparation isn’t the only problem, black students told Abdul-alim. Some said they lacked focus, discipline and career goals.
Lester Kern Jr., a dreadlocked 23-year-old psychology major, started in spring of 2008 but was still a junior five years later. “I was partying too much for my first two semesters,” Kern said. “The biggest factor for why I didn’t do well is I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I figured there was no big goal I was working toward so I felt if I messed up, no big deal.”
Abdul-alim decided in high school that he wanted to be a journalist. He worked part-time for the Milwaukee Sentinel, whose editor said he wouldn’t hire him full-time without a bachelor’s degree.
He meets Nick Robinson, a black graduate who’s an architect. The son of an engineer and a court reporter he had “a very strong intellectual base” that others lack, he said. “They don’t understand that concept of, if you want something go get it. They think it’s some mystery. Like it has to work out in the universe. No, you put it in the universe.”
It’s not clear why UWM’s black graduation rate is so much lower than at other nonselective universities. The university is working on improving remedial math, writes Abdul-alim. Academic advising for black students (aka “segregated” advising) has moved to the center of campus. But nobody’s gone to Bowling Green to see how they do it.
Young “heretics” with high-tech skills are Saying No to College, according to the New York Times.
Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.
Tumblr CEO David Karp dropped out of high school and hopes to “grab 16-year-olds that are going to be brilliant and help them get there,” he tells Tech Crunch. “College isn’t making very good engineers.” Karp’s heroes are Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka.
“Here in Silicon Valley, it’s almost a badge of honor,” said Mick Hagen, 28, who dropped out of Princeton in 2006 and moved to San Francisco, where he started Undrip, a mobile app. He is now recruiting from the undergraduate ranks, he said, which is becoming a trend among other tech companies, too. In his view, dropouts are freethinkers, risk-takers. They have not been tainted by groupthink.
Dropouts can educate themselves without going into debt, says entrepreneur James Altucher, author of 40 Alternatives to College. “I think kids with a five-year head start on equally ambitious peers will be ahead in both education and income,” Altucher told the Times. “They could go to a library, read a book a day, take courses online. There are thousands of ways.”
Most young people are not future high-tech zillionaires, whether they earn a college degree or not. We can’t all be Willy Wonka. But it’s healthy for young people to consider alternatives to a high-debt degree. Or somewhat less debt and no degree.
Young four-year graduates are earning less, while college tuition grows and grows, reports the Fiscal Times.
Only 46 percent of U.S. students who start college complete a degree, according to the OECD. That’s the lowest rate in the industrialized world. College dropouts blame high costs, poor preparation and the need to balance work and family responsibilities with classes.
Federal, state and local taxpayers spend billions of dollars on community college dropouts, I write in U.S. News.
Fewer than 45 percent of college-ready students and just 20 percent of remedial students earn a certificate or degree in four years at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla. That’s “nearly three times the rate” of similar urban community colleges and impressive enough to earn Valencia the first Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, awarded Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C.
In short, even at one of the most successful community colleges, most students don’t complete a certificate or degree.
Twenty percent of working-age adults have some college credits but no degree. persuading college dropouts to try again is a key part of the “completion agenda.” But college can be just as hard the second time around, especially if adults try to take classes designed and scheduled for 18- to 22-year-olds.
President Obama’s 2020 goal — the U.S. will be first in the world in college graduates — requires community colleges to graduate many more students. But state budget cuts will make it very difficult to increase the number of graduates, say most state community college directors. Sixteen states have de facto enrollment caps at community colleges.
Illinois’ B students average a C+ at state universities and community colleges. Some graduates with similar GPAs do much better than others in their first year.
Massachusetts colleges and universities are trying to stem the high college dropout rate for graduates of Boston Public Schools.
Many college students can’t do math or read well, write Sandra Stotsky and Ze’ev Wurman on Minding the Campus.
Estimates of those needing remedial classes before taking credit courses range from 30% of entering students to 40% of traditional undergraduates. . . .
A 2004 U.S. Department of Education study reports that 42% of freshmen in public two-year institutions need remediation.
. . . More than half of all college students will not earn a degree or credential, according to a 2009 Gates Foundation report drawing on national education statistics. For community college and low-income students, it notes, the numbers are much worse.
What to do? Teaching college skills to college-bound high school students would seem like an obvious answer. But Stotsky and Wurman fear a push to change college coursework to be doable by the minimally skilled.
The Gates Foundation . . . faults our post-secondary institutions for not having “responded to their students’ increasingly complex and diverse needs.” One goal of Gates’ Postsecondary Success Initiative is to make both curriculum and instruction at the post-secondary level “more effective and engaging” by integrating technology into instruction, redesigning entire courses, and “contextualizing” these courses “to match students’ field of interest.” Details are lacking, but this seems to mean that academic degree programs would be versions of programs now offered in vocational technical high schools, the kind of schools these students should have had the opportunity—and encouragement—to enroll in.
Raising high school expectations would not increase the dropout rate, they argue. Massachusetts, which has the toughest standards in the nation, reduced its dropout rate by 12 percent in 2008, they write.
With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them from Public Agenda looks at why so many college students never earn a degree. It’s not that students are bored with their classes or reluctant to work hard, the study concludes.
Most students leave college because they are working to support themselves and going to school at the same time. At some point, the stress of work and study just becomes too difficult.
. . . Only about 1 in 10 students who have left college say a major reason they quit was that they didn’t like sitting in class or thought the classes were too difficult.
College dropouts may not realize what they’re losing by not completing a degree, the report says.
. . . when 40 percent of college students fail to graduate in six years, and when about a quarter of employed college graduates have jobs that don’t require degrees, it’s obvious we’re pushing too many kids into higher education.
About 25 percent of college graduates in their 20s are working at jobs that don’t require degrees, VerBruggen writes.
. . . the economy doesn’t need more generic college graduates — and in fact refuses to hire many of them. Rather, it needs highly capable people in certain fields. It would probably be better to encourage students acquiring useless majors to switch to these lucrative fields than to send more kids to college across the board.
After all, when you send more kids to college, you’re scraping closer to the bottom of the college-eligibility barrel. The new kids will be less able and motivated, on average, than the ones who are already in college — and thus even more likely to drop out before finishing and to wind up in jobs that don’t utilize their degrees if they do finish.
VerBruggen agrees that better schools would prepare more inner-city students for success in college, but “it will be years before we see significant results,” even if reforms go very well. For many of today’s high school graduates, he writes, “college isn’t working.”