College: the best seven years of your life

According to a new study by Complete College America, only 19% of students at public universities, and 36% of students at state flagship universities, earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. (Hat tip.) Only 10% of students who receive remedial education graduate on time.

Complete College America proposes a highly structured course track that guides students to on-time graduation.  My engineering school did something very similar: it outlined exactly when our required courses needed to be completed so that we could finish the sequence on time. It didn’t hurt that we had to declare a major at the end of freshman year (students in the liberal arts college were given until the end of sophomore year) and had an adviser walk us through the process.  Although my alma mater is a private school, the idea of guided, structured tracks is a good one that can be easily and inexpensively used in public universities.

That said, there is plenty of blame to go around for the sorry state of affairs.  Perhaps many students who are at university really shouldn’t be there, either due to lack of preparation, drive, or ability to focus on school work and not partying. “Guided Pathways to Success” won’t help students who aren’t able to register for the courses they need; many students at public universities have found that required courses are full before they even have a chance to register.  Universities lack an incentive to change this: they collect more tuition money from students who remain on campus for a longer time and can always throw out the canard about “declining state funding” if they are ever publicly called out for their behaviour. (It is well within the powers of a university to cancel some arcane course on Sanskrit Feminist Theory and divert those saved resources to a section of intro psychology.)

Complete College America also suggests dumbing down the college curriculum.  Okay, they didn’t put it exactly that way, but they did suggest that college requirements for Algebra II be done away with and replaced with statistics.  Now, I love stats and think that it should be required for almost any major, but am baffled as to why colleges are admitting enough students who can’t do Algebra II that eliminating the requirement has a measurable effect on graduation rates.

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