The Chronicle Review - July 26, 2019

... According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, fewer than 60 percent of college freshmen graduate in six years, two years beyond what is considered “on time,” and that rate has barely changed during the past decade. Community-college students are meant to earn an associate degree in two years, but even after having been in school for six years, fewer than 40 percent have graduated. The United States ranks 19th in graduation rates among the 28 countries studied by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, putting the country on a par with Lithuania and Slovenia. 

Statistics can be numbing, the stuff of policy wonkery, but bear with me — the deeper you dive into these numbers, the bleaker the picture that emerges. Public universities graduate a little over half their students; roughly a quarter of those who enroll in for-profits earn a bachelor’s degree. If these institutions were held to the same standard as our high schools, 85 percent of them would be branded dropout factories.

Some students leave school because of money woes, and others realize that college isn’t right for them. But many depart because the institution hasn’t given them the we-have-your-back support they need.

The fact that 40 percent of college freshmen never make it to commencement is higher education’s dirty little secret, a dereliction of duty that has gotten too little public attention. In Academically Adrift (University of Chicago Press, 2011), Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa surveyed more than 2,300 students and discovered widespread disaffection with colleges and inattention to academics. The typical student, they reported, studied far less than students in the early 1960s.

Strikingly, the universities didn’t seem to care. “Faculty and administrators, working to meet multiple and at times competing demands, too rarely focus on either improving instruction or demonstrating gains in student learning.” The priority for many college presidents is getting freshmen in the door and tuition dollars in the bank. Meanwhile, professors go about their business, inattentive to the problem — ask most professors about how many students depart their institution and you’re likely to get puzzled looks and an off-the-mark guesstimate.

No one is held accountable for this sorry state of affairs. Nobody gets fired because students are dropping out. ...
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