Opinion: Why Do So Many Students Drop Out of College? And What Can Be Done About It?

"More than 3 million students will graduate from U.S. high schools this month, and two-thirds of them will head off to college next fall. If history is any guide, for many of them, their high school graduation might be their last commencement ceremony," Jeffrey Selingo writes for The Washington Post.

"Fewer than 40 percent of students enrolling for the first time at a four-year college graduate in four years. Add in community college students, and more than half of students who start college drop out within six years.

For generations, few colleges paid much attention to students who left short of a degree. Indeed, the federal government did not even collect data on a school's graduation rate until the mid-1990s. College was seen as a stage in life for young adults to discover themselves — a place where they would sink or swim.

That attitude started to shift in the past two decades as federal statistics revealed a little more than half of students graduated, even as tuition and student debt continued to skyrocket. Most problematic was who finished and who did not: Basically, wealthy students graduated,  and low-income students did not. Children from families earning more than $90,000 have a 1-in-2 chance of getting a bachelor's degree by 24. That falls to a 1 in 17 chance for families earning under $35,000.

With the pressure on colleges to retain more students and get them to graduation, campuses are spending an increasing share of their budgets on student-success efforts. They are installing technology that constantly tracks performance, hiring professional advising staffs to assist in course selection and designing opportunities on and off campus to better engage students in their undergraduate careers. Now, there is a greater sense of urgency to these activities. A surge in enrollment of first-generation, low-income and minority students is expected in the coming years — all groups historically not well-served by higher education.

'Where else can we take someone's money and not guarantee them something in return?' David Laude asked me recently. 'Las Vegas — and I don't think higher education wants to be compared to gambling.'

Laude is a chemistry professor and senior vice provost at the University of Texas at Austin. While many campuses have only recently started to do something to improve student learning and outcomes, Laude was an early convert. In the late 1990s, Laude was teaching an introductory chemistry course at UT-Austin, like he had been since 1987. Over the course of a few years, however, he noticed the distribution of grades in his classes was shifting.

'Rather than the typical bell curve, it was inverted,' he recalled. Of the 500 students in his class, about 400 were on one side with A's and B's. The rest were at the bottom, with D's and F's. Few were in the middle."

NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.


Publication Date: 6/12/2018

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