This article is part of NASFAA's occasional book review series, where members share their reflections on books, published within the past five years, on higher education themes of interest to financial aid professionals. The opinions offered and statements made do not imply endorsement by NASFAA or the authors' employers and do not guarantee the accuracy of information presented. Would you like to suggest a book for a future review? Email us at [email protected] with your recommendation.
In a book titled "The College Dropout Scandal," author David Kirp examines the issue of non-completion in higher education and whether the issue can be remedied. Kirp outlines six strategies that colleges and universities nationwide may be able to employ to reverse the trends that lead to students dropping out of college. The book "will get your brain churning about creative ways to approach a serious problem that needs to be addressed," writes practicing financial aid administrator Tayler Kreutter, who read the book and shared her unbiased opinions of its content at the request of NASFAA. What follows are her takeaways, thoughts and reflections. The NASFAA Readers Club also discussed this book in its inaugural meeting this week. To sign up for our next meeting, visit the Readers Club web page.
Statistics are a powerful tool to set the stage for a "dirty little secret" about higher education that isn't getting enough public attention: Forty percent of college freshmen never graduate (p. 4). David L. Kirp, a professor at University of California, Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, opens his latest book, "The College Dropout Scandal," with a barrage of staggering numbers on college completion, such as these:
Can these issues be fixed? This is the looming question explored by Kirp as he walks readers through six strategies, developed and applied at eight schools (Georgia State University, City University of New York, Rutgers University-Newark, Valencia College, University of Central Florida, University of Texas, Long Beach State, and Amherst College), that other colleges can use to reverse these trends. These strategies include the following:
Kirp repeatedly points a finger at upper administration and faculty on college campuses as having the power to reduce college dropout rates by examining their priorities. Are we focusing on our students' success, or are we too busy trying to climb the ladder of national rankings and collect tuition dollars to notice that our students aren't satisfied and aren't graduating?
After leading readers on a journey through the transformations made at these institutions, Kirp leaves us with his formula for success by outlining six critical qualities possessed by the top administrators at the institutions highlighted in his book:
One fact remains astoundingly clear: The formula for success will present itself differently at each institution. There is no single action plan upper administration at colleges can use. It takes a skilled leader to identify which carrot and stick to place where and to be flexible enough to see and act on more than one fix.
Where do we start? Kirp answers this with a quote from Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute, a non-partisan forum for values-based leadership: "We need a national strategy to get leaders who know how to improve their students' lives. They need to build a culture that's student-success oriented, to determine the most strategic resources and to build partnerships with the public schools, universities and employers in their community" (p. 138).
Kirp concludes, "When institutions get serious about the dropout crisis, the consequences can be dramatic." The eight schools Kirp highlighted are bright spots that other institutions across the country can look to for examples of how to turn things around; but make no mistake — institutions still need courageous leadership and money to transform good ideas into action.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and felt it was a relatively quick read. I think it would be worthwhile for those who are either interested in this "scandal" or have tried to find solutions for their own institutions to help the drop-out rate. While it doesn't present you with a one-size-fits-all institution model, it will get your brain churning about creative ways to approach a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Will we, as higher education professionals, be the group that starts to bridge this gap and get more students to complete their degrees? Kirp hopes so, but it's up to us to start talking about what needs to change at each of our institutions.
Tayler Kreutter is the executive director of student financial services at Roberts Wesleyan College, a private Christian liberal arts college in Rochester, NY. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the College at Brockport, SUNY and a Master of Education from the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester. She is actively involved in the New York State Financial Aid Administrators Association (NYSFAAA) as co-chair of her region, and she serves as a member of the Mentoring Committee for NYSFAAA.
Publication Date: 12/12/2019