Universities – The Pride and Joy of the American Education System

Unlike America’s K-12 system students from around the world compete to gain a seat in America’s post-secondary school system.  President Obama has been pushing to improve the nation’s competitiveness by doubling the number of college graduates.

A new report issued by Public Agenda indicates that 2.8 million students enroll in some form of higher education each year. Only one in five of those who enroll in two-year institutions earn an associate degree within three years, and only two in five of those who start four-year colleges complete their degrees within six years.  Those who fail to graduate from universities are those who were the 66% who completed K-12 education.

Why do students leave college?  The report concludes that most dropouts leave college because they have trouble going to school while working to support themselves.

Among those who dropped out, nearly 6 in 10 got no help from their parents in paying tuition. Among those who got degrees, more than 6 in 10 had tuition help from their families.  About 7 in 10 of the dropouts said they had no scholarship or loan aid. Among those who got degrees, only about four in 10 went without such aid.

Almost three-quarters of those who completed a degree had household incomes above $35,000. Among the dropouts, more than half had household incomes below $35,000. And while 7 in 10 of the college graduates had parents who had completed at least some college work, four in 10 of the dropouts had parents with nothing beyond a high school diploma.

Colleges need to be aware, the report emphasized, that only about a quarter of those enrolled in higher education fit the popular image of a college student living in a dorm and attending classes full time. Almost as many have dependent children.

The top reason the dropouts gave for leaving college was that it was just too hard to support themselves and go to school at the same time. Balancing work and school was a bigger barrier than finding money for tuition, they said. In fact, more than a third of the dropouts said that even if they got a grant that covered their books and tuition, it would be hard to go back to school, given their work and family commitments.

Asked to rate 12 possible changes, the dropouts’ most popular solutions were allowing part-time students to qualify for financial aid, offering more courses on weekends and evenings, cutting costs and providing child care.

For me, it appears that colleges are more concerned about getting students into them rather than having students graduating.  With the costs of going to university increasing faster than the costs of inflation, it appears that the Obama administration should hold a university summit with a focus on increasing the university graduation rate, not merely the admission rate.