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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

College for all — but not college degrees

More first-generation, low-income students are going to college — but not completing a degree, writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times. “The college-graduation rate for these poorer students is abysmal,” he writes.

His chart, based on a new study in Demography, shows the growing graduation gap.

Employers aren’t impressed by job applicants with “some college,” but no degree, writes Leonhardt.

Since 2000, the average inflation-adjusted wage of workers with some college credit but no degree has actually fallen, by 2 percent, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute. The average wage of college graduates is up 6 percent.

College dropouts often “have to repay college debt without the extra earning power of a degree,” he writes. It’s “the worst of both worlds.”

Already, some colleges have started to make impressive changes. Georgia State has raised its six-year graduation rate sharply. A network of 11 universities, including Kansas, Michigan State and the University of California, Riverside, are working together — imagine that — to share student-success strategies. In New York, community colleges in the CUNY network have created a program that nearly doubled graduation rates.

Lavishing high-need students with support has improved graduation rates at the University of Texas and Wayne State in Detroit, writes David Kirp, a professor of public policy at Berkeley.

UT has raised its four-year graduation rate and halved the gap between all students and first-generation, low-income and minority students.

Wayne State lowered admission requirements to admit more students, then saw its graduation rate fall sharply, writes Kirp. Only a third of students — 13 percent of African-Americans, earned a degree in six years. Three years ago, the university started to turn that around.

Both UT and Wayne analyze students’ grades, scores and other records to predict who’s likely to struggle. These students get help from the first day, before they ask for it.

Advisers and counselors reach out, upperclassmen are hired as tutors, and “learning communities” of like-minded students offer a haven in the sometimes overwhelming big-campus environment. Bureaucracies that turned seemingly mundane activities like registering for classes into Kafkaesque experiences — “getting Wayned,” students at Wayne State used to call it — are being streamlined.

UT offers its weakest students paid internships linked to their academic interests, writes Kirp. Wayne State provides “a summer program combining remedial math and reading with college-survival skills like time management.”

I wish more students would be prepared for success before they got to college.

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