Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dropout Factories

In a detailed analysis Tamara Hiler and Lanae Erickson Hatalsk examine how well public colleges and universities have been educating students. They demonstrate that we have all been conned into thinking that going to college will guarantee everyone a better job, a higher income and greater social mobility. (Via Maggie’s Farm)

The authors find that most public institutions of higher learning fail at their appointed task. Graduation rates are scandalously low, and many of those who attend these institutions end up with student loan debt they cannot pay, along with salaries that are roughly equivalent of what they would have made if they had only graduated from high school.

In the article we see a monumental waste of money and with many promises betrayed. The authors do not consider how these institutions are run. They do not examine the role played by bloated administrations and do not ask whether the teachers know how to teach. They do not explain whether the students who attend these colleges are simply incapable of doing college level work or whether the schools themselves have become indoctrination mills.

The authors introduce the topic:

Public colleges and universities have long been beacons of hope for millions of Americans seeking to better their lives and improve their economic standing. Each year, they educate the largest proportion of bachelor’s degree-seeking students (about two-thirds of the college-going population), often offering a much more affordable education than their private, non-profit peers. Yet very little is understood about whether these institutions are actually fulfilling their promise to serve as engines of mobility for the 6.8 million students that walk through their doors each year.6 Specifically, how well are our country’s four-year public colleges and universities equipping students with a degree and the skills they need to obtain well-paying jobs in our modern economy?

After analyzing the data, the authors conclude:

Of the 535 four-year public colleges and universities for which data was available, we found that nearly 6 in 10 are failing to graduate a majority of their first-time, full-time students, dimming prospects for their future economic success. In addition, our results reveal that there is a wide divergence of quality in our public institutions, with the students who need higher education as an engine of mobility the most often concentrated at schools with the worst outcomes.

Why does the graduation rate matter?

n today’s economy, graduation rate is the most powerful indicator of whether or not a college is truly bringing value to a student’s life. Americans holding bachelor’s degrees have median weekly earnings that are more than $400 greater than their non-college educated peers, resulting in lifetime wages that are on average $1 million more over the course of a lifetime.”13 By contrast, students who do not earn a diploma are in many cases worse off than if they had never attended college at all—in large part because most non-completers will have taken on some form of debt yet will not be eligible for the higher paying jobs a degree would open up to help pay it off.14

Yet, at the average public institution, students have LESS THAN a 1 in 2 shot of graduating.

They continue:

The graduation rate for first time, full time students at the average four-year public institution is 48.3%.

At 6 in 10 of these institutions (57.6%), fewer than half of first-time, full-time students earn a degree.

Only 39 four-year public institutions (7.3%) boast a graduation rate higher than 75%.

We have passed beyond the notion that colleges are diploma mills. Today’s system of  higher education has produced dropout factories:

A shocking 85% of four-year public colleges and universities would be considered dropout factories if they were held to the same standards as our nation’s high schools.

And also:

One of the more astounding findings in this dataset is the reality that only 80 out of 535 four-year public institutions—or 15.0% of these schools—graduate more than two-thirds of their first-time, full-time students each year. That means that if the remaining 455 schools were a part of our country’s K-12 system, they would be considered “dropout factories” under the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.18 Specifically, the federal government has recognized that if a high school fails to graduate more than two-thirds of their students (a status which describes approximately 5% of all high schools in the U.S.) they are required to put in place some sort of support plan to improve their outcomes or face possible closure.19

And while low graduation rates are a problem on their own, what is even more disconcerting is the fact that a number of these institutions have particularly damaging outcomes for students coming from low- and moderate-income families.

So, the great hope of using the university system to produce social mobility has been betrayed:

At the average four-year public institution, many students aren’t earning more than a high school graduate six years after enrollment.

They conclude that we are not going to fix the problem by making college free.


Trigger Warning said...

What should we expect when a large percentage of incoming freshmen must enroll in remedial reading and math? In an earlier age, such individuals would have precipitated out long before filling out college admissions applications, often goaded to do so these days by witless school "counselors" preaching the idiotic "What Color is Your Parachute?" gospel.

We need much more vocational education at the secondary school level. Plumbing, electrical, and finish carpentry can't be offshored, and provide entrepreneurial opportunities.

Ares Olympus said...

Ignoring the real problem of students who fail to graduate, looking at career success for specific college graduates is certainly vital information. And seeing which majors work out and which don't as well.

We may be moving to a world where a diploma means nothing, except to those who don't have one. So if its true that the diploma itself is a status symbol to get people in the door for any unrelated career, then the clear plan would seem to be to go to the cheapest options available, like a 2 year community college and then transferring to a university.

But surely many careers will benefit with more direct mentoring within a business, and you're better off starting with low pay in a job with advancement, than low pay plus student debt. I suppose networking is a big key here, knowing someone who knows someone, and that works best when your family has lived in the same place for decades.

And if you get get a foot in the door, Stuart would surely say an 18-20 year old with a good work ethic, good manners, and a willingness to learn will go far where ever he goes. And on the other side, we can wonder what sorts of businesses are looking for young people like that, where being able to work a number of years on low wages is an asset.

Sam L. said...

A diploma says the holder stuck it out for some years. When businesses can't discriminate on what the candidate can do and bring to the company, it can only ask for a diploma.