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Complete College America Report Examines Low Higher Ed Graduation Rates

A new, comprehensive report on college graduation rates released Tuesday revealed why college completion rates, including analyses of Black, Hispanic, Pell Grant and part-time students, are low among American students.

One of the key findings in “Time is the Enemy: The Surprising Truth About Why Today’s College Students Aren’t Graduating … AND WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE” is that “students who are poor, older or of color struggle the most to graduate,” according to Complete College America, the nonprofit that produced the report.

“I think college is not structured in a way to have these students be successful,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America and a former Indiana education commissioner.

The report found that about 40 percent of Black full-time students earn a four-year degree in six years and about 46 percent of Hispanic full-time students earn a four-year diploma in six years. When enrolled part time, Black and Hispanic students fare much worse. Their six-year college completion rates in this category are about 14 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

Remediation and sporadic scheduling contribute greatly to students’ failure, said Jones. About 50 percent of students who start at a community college and 21 percent of students who start at a four-year school need remediation, according to the study.

“We have significant numbers of students who cannot write or read at the levels that they need to be at in order to be successful in college,” said Jones. Too often students don’t get the preparation they need in high school and then they don’t think they need certain subjects to be successful in their careers.

About 30 percent of students in remediation classes don’t show up the first day, Jones said. “The research says that remediation is not successful,” he noted, because the students are discouraged. The best way to deal with this issue is to embed remediation in regular classes, according to Jones, offering extra sessions for students who need help.

Incidentally, the Washington-based Complete College America organization timed the release of its report to coincide with the NBC television network’s Education Nation Summit broadcast event. The remediation topic surfaced prominently during one of the televised Education Nation panel discussions.

“It’s a huge issue, and it leads to many problems. It leads to retention issues,” said Chicago City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman at NBC’s national education summit in New York.

In Chicago, about 90 percent of students start in remedial college classes, said Jones. This has driven Hyman to push for dual-enrollment programs with high schools in the city and to create a six-week summer bridge program for seniors.

Hyman spoke on a panel discussion titled, “A Matter of Degrees: Measuring the Value of Higher Ed,” with University of Texas at Brownsville President Juliet V. García. More and more students need to work to pay for their hefty college tuitions, according to the report, detracting from their studies. One way to keep students on track and allow them to work is by providing a lot of on-campus jobs, said García.

“We’re talking about inclusion, not exclusion,” she said, adding that on-campus jobs allow commuter students to build more of a network at school. The study revealed that block scheduling is an effective way to allow students to work and keep them in school, too, said Jones. Twenty-seven technical centers in Tennessee have a graduation rate of 75 percent because they offer block scheduling.

Complete College America culled graduation information from 33 states that has gone undetected by the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), because the feds don’t look at the graduation rates of nontraditional students.

“No one has collected this much data nationwide on these students,” said Jones. “I think there will be a lot of follow-up on these issues.”

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