Thursday, July 9, 2009

Free to Fail

The dirty little secret of higher education is that governments at all levels are pushing young people (and older folk) to get a college degree, regardless of ability. Because it is so easy to get into some college, there is less pressure on high school students to learn the study skills, time management and work ethic needed to actually graduate.

The federal government requires all colleges to report their 150% graduation rate: the number of entering freshmen tracked over SIX years (150% of the traditional four year college curriculum). This information is buried in an IPEDs site at the U.S. Department of Education, and not surprisingly, schools do not like to advertise that their graduation rate is lower than low.

Disclosure: my university has a 39% graduation rate over six years; higher for transfer students. The rate varies greatly by sex and race -- white and black females are graduating at far higher rates than white and black men. The situation is so severe that the National Urban League has labeled it one of Black America's top problems.

Finally, the American Enterprise Institute has published the high cost of perpetuating failure. Why do "we" do this?

Every politician, Democrat or Republican is an "education" candidate. All voters, it seems, feel their children are "above average" and entitled to a college education. That Woebegone logic runs up against the high proportion of students who are not adequately prepared for college. All of the remedial programs in the world have not changed that basic fact. The Tocquevillian nightmare of democracy running amuck means that all are pulled (with financial inducements) to become "college material" whether or not that is true.

The following site contains an abstract and link to the full PDF, which is eye-opening, to say the least. Chicago State has a 16% graduation rate. Other schools scrape below ten percent!

The only political solution is to mandate graduation through social promotion (think of how many high school students get tracked into Special Ed and then "graduated").