Progress in Mainstream Journalism!
links for 2009-09-10

American Colleges

Felix Salmon sends us to:

Felix Salmon » Blog Archive » Chart of the day, College tuition edition | Blogs |

And writes:

Felix Salmon » Blog Archive » Chart of the day, College tuition edition | Blogs |: This chart comes from John Caddell, and it shows the cost of attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as a percentage of US median income. Scary stuff. But not as scary as David Leonhardt’s column today...

David Leonhardt:

U.S. Colleges Are Failing in Getting Students to Graduate: At its top levels, the American system of higher education may be the best in the world. Yet in terms of its core mission — turning teenagers into educated college graduates — much of the system is simply failing. Only 33 percent of the freshmen who enter the University of Massachusetts, Boston, graduate within six years. Less than 41 percent graduate from the University of Montana, and 44 percent from the University of New Mexico. The economist Mark Schneider refers to colleges with such dropout rates as “failure factories,” and they are the norm.

The United States does a good job enrolling teenagers in college, but only half of students who enroll end up with a bachelor’s degree. Among rich countries, only Italy is worse. That’s a big reason inequality has soared, and productivity growth has slowed....

[H]igh schools still produce many students who have the skills to complete college and yet fail to do so. Turning them into college graduates should be a lot less difficult than fixing all of American education. “We could be doing a lot better with college completion just by working on our colleges,” as Robert Shireman, an Education Department official who has read an early version of the book, says. Congress and the Obama administration... would cancel about $9 billion in annual government subsidies for banks that lend to college students and use much of the money to increase financial aid....

The first problem that Mr. Bowen, Mr. McPherson and the book’s third author, Matthew Chingos, a doctoral candidate, diagnose is something they call under-matching. It refers to students who choose not to attend the best college they can get into. They instead go to a less selective one, perhaps one that’s closer to home or, given the torturous financial aid process, less expensive.... [W]ell-off students — many of whom will graduate no matter where they go — attend the colleges that do the best job of producing graduates. These are the places where many students live on campus (which raises graduation rates) and graduation is the norm. Meanwhile, lower-income students — even when they are better qualified — often go to colleges that excel in producing dropouts. “It’s really a waste,” Mr. Bowen says, “and a big problem for the country.” As the authors point out, the only way to lift the college graduation rate significantly is to lift it among poor and working-class students. Instead, it appears to have fallen somewhat since the 1970s....

In education, the incentives can be truly perverse. Because large lecture classes are cheaper for a college than seminars, freshmen are cheaper than upperclassmen. So a college that allows many of its underclassmen to drop out may be helping its bottom line.... Last year, even in the grip of a recession that has spared no group of workers, the gap between what a college graduate earned and what everyone else earned reached a record. Workers with bachelor’s degrees made 54 percent more on average than those who attended college but didn’t finish, according to the Labor Department. Fifty-four percent — just think about how that adds up over a lifetime. And then think about how many students never cross the college finish line.

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