The importance of a college education is well established. People understand that a college education will increase the likelihood of entering into a satisfying profession and earning a higher income. Indeed, college enrollment has risen significantly over the past 15 years. In 2011, 21 million people attended U.S. colleges compared to only 15.9 million in 2001.
We have won the battle of convincing students of the value of going to college. But our goal isn't really for more students to "go" to college; our goal should really be for more students to "graduate" from college. On that metric we are still far from claiming victory.
Rates vary depending on the source of the information, but overall it is fair to say that merely getting accepted to college is absolutely not a guarantee of graduating from college. In fact, many colleges have such a terrible graduation rate among students that have been attending for four years that they prefer to publicize their SIX YEAR graduation rate rather than their four year graduation rate. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the six-year graduation rate means the percentage of students who are able to complete a four-year program within six years [!] . Even this extra time only raises the overall college graduation rate to around 50%.
Can you imagine the outcry from the public, from our government, and from our students if the high school graduation rate was only 50%??? Yet, this fact is not widely known by the public. Little more than half of our students that begin college actually finish college. And if you look at the data by race, the news is even worse.
Of course there are many reasons for why students drop out of college. A Harvard Study cites the following reasons:
- not being prepared for the rigors of academic work
- inability to cope with the competing demands of study, family, and work
Our public schools are in a constant battle with students (and sometimes with parents) over the dueling pressures of Learning versus Getting Good Grades. Some students care little about actual learning and only want to do what is necessary to earn a good grade. While their teachers are pushing them to learn, to understand, and to use the learning they've acquired to learn more. I believe that a major reason for the low college graduation rate is students who do enough in high school to get accepted to college, but don't enough (in high school) to gain the knowledge and the discipline they need to succeed in college.
We must do better on this front. We must continue to stress the importance of true learning and true understanding of P-12 content. We have to lessen the importance of grades and increase the importance of real learning. In the end, it's not that we want students to attend college; what we really want is for students to graduate from college.
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