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Subject:

From the Chron of higher ed

From:

Norman Stahl <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 28 May 2004 07:40:26 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (128 lines)

http://chronicle.com/daily/2004/05/2004052703n.htm

Advocacy Group Criticizes Colleges for Permitting Too Many Students to Drop
Out

By STEPHEN BURD
WashingtonColleges are allowing too many financially needy and minority
students to fall through the cracks, according to a report released on
Wednesday by
the Education Trust, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.
The report, "A Matter of Degrees: Improving Graduation Rates in Four-Year
Colleges and Universities," says that less than half of all full-time black
students and less than half of all full-time Hispanic students who attend
four-year
colleges graduate within six years. The rates for students from low-income
families are only slightly better.
The report is based on a study of newly available data from the U.S.
Department of Education that break down college-graduation rates by
students' gender,
race, and ethnicity. Based on his analysis of those data, the report's author,
Kevin Carey, says that at the average four-year college, there is a gap in
the graduation rates between white and black students of more than 10
percentage
points. At a quarter of all four-year colleges, he says, the gap is 20 pe
rcentage points or more.
For Hispanic students, he found that the "graduation-rate gap" between them
and white students at the average college is 7 percentage points, and at a
quarter of all four-year institutions, it is 15 percentage points or more.
The consequences of dropping out for those students -- many of whom leave
with little education and a heavy student-loan debt -- cannot be overstated,
writes Mr. Carey, a senior analyst with the Education Trust.
"These are the students most in need of urgent assistance, who most need
institutions of higher education to take responsibility for these numbers,
analyze
the barriers that lie underneath them, and change their practices in ways
that will improve student success," he writes. "But there are those in the
higher-education world who would rather not talk about graduation rates at
all."
The report is the latest salvo in a debate that has raged this year on
Capitol Hill, at the Education Department, and among higher-education
researchers
over whether colleges should be judged by their graduation rates.
As Congress continues its deliberations on renewing the Higher Education Act,
the law governing most federal student-aid programs, some Bush-administration
officials and Republican lawmakers have considered offering proposals that
would penalize or reward campuses based on their retention and graduation
rates (
The Chronicle, May 23, 2003).
The Education Department issued a report this spring cautioning against such
an approach. That report, by Clifford Adelman, a senior research analyst at
the department's Institute of Education Sciences, said that the rates that the
department requires colleges to calculate are unreliable measures because they
take into account only full-time students who entered as freshmen and stayed
on to graduate within six years.
Analyzing the college transcripts of students who graduated from high school
in 1992, Mr. Adelman discovered that one in five students who had earned a
bachelor's degree had received it from a four-year college other than the
one in
which he or she first enrolled. Under federal rules, those students would be
counted as dropouts (The Chronicle, April 2).
The Education Trust report agrees that the federal government should not use
the rates to award or punish colleges. But it rejects the idea that graduation
rates are a meaningless gauge.
"The data show that some institutional graduation rates are much, much
different than others, even when compared to institutions with very similar
students," Mr. Carey writes. After taking into account factors that might
influence
graduation rates -- such as students' SAT and ACT scores and financial
resources
and colleges' size and location -- he says he found that "some colleges and
universities far outperform their peers."
"These high performers," he writes, "offer powerful evidence that our
higher-education system has the capacity for great improvement when it
comes to
maximizing the education and success of all students."
Among the more successful colleges, the report states, is Elizabeth City
State University, a historically black institution in North Carolina that
had a
53-percent graduation rate in 2002. That is 14 percentage points better
than the
median rate of 30 of its peer institutions.
It also praises the State University of New York at Binghamton, which
graduated 77 percent of its black students in 2002. That's "a full 18
percentage
points higher than the average for its peer group, and virtually the same
as its
overall rate and rate for white students," the report says.
In addition, it hails colleges that have significantly raised their
graduation rates over the last few years. Among them is Louisiana Tech
University,
which has increased from 35 percent in 1997 to 55 percent in 2002.
The report recommends that states change how they finance higher education to
provide incentives to graduate more students. For example, it cites "funding
strategies in the United Kingdom," where colleges do not receive their full
per-student allocation until that student graduates.
To improve, the report says, colleges must feel "a sense of urgency."
"People in positions of responsibility at American colleges want their
graduation rates to be higher," Mr. Carey writes. "But there is an immense
difference between wanting to improve and needing to improve, and right now
most
colleges and universities simply don't have to perform at a higher level
than they
already do."
The full text of the Education Trust's report is available on its Web site
(requires Adobe Reader, available free).



Norman A. Stahl
Professor and Chair
Literacy Education
GA 147
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

Phone: (815) 753-9032
FAX:   (815) 753-8563
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