To graduate, or not to graduate

In the U.S.,students are enrolling in college in record numbers, but they’re also dropping out in droves.

Barely half of those who start four-year colleges, and only a third of community college students, graduate. Today’s New York Times reports that “it’s one of the worst records among developed nations, and it’s a substantial drain on the economy. The American Institutes for Research estimates the cost of those dropouts, measured in lost earnings and taxes, at $4.5 billion. Incalculable are the lost opportunities for social mobility and the stillborn professional careers.


“There’s a remedy at hand, though, and it’s pretty straightforward. Nationwide, universities need to give undergraduates the care and attention akin to what’s lavished on students at elite institutions. If that help is forthcoming, graduation rates more than double, according to several evaluations of an innovative program at the City University of New York’s community colleges. Over the past month, CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) has garnered hosannas in the media for its package of comprehensive financial resources, student support systems and impressive graduation rates. The social policy leader MDRC is conducting a multiyear random-assignment study of ASAP and, in a just-released report, describes it as “unparalleled in large-scale experimental evaluations of programs in higher education to date.”

“Nearly 90 percent of students who attend a top-ranked university earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. While these undergraduates may well be among the best and brightest, they also get kid-gloves treatment. If they run into trouble, an army of helpmates stands at the ready. “From moving day as a freshman through graduation and beyond,” Harvard assures its students, “our advisers are here to help and support you at every step.” The situation is entirely different for most undergraduates, especially poor and minority students. All too often they’re steered to schools where they receive little if any support in mastering tough courses, decoding arcane requirements for a major, sorting out life problems or navigating the maze of institutional requirements. Graduation rates at these so-called dropout factories, especially those in urban areas that largely serve low-income, underprepared minority populations, are as abysmal as 5 percent.”


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