I can recall sitting through an all-day retention meeting at one point during my higher education career. The institution where I was working only graduated two out of every 10 students that entered within six years. Three things never came up during that meeting: recruitment, academics and financial aid, which went a long way toward explaining the woefully low graduation rate. One must account for all three to have a successful retention effort.
There is a simple reason why the schools that are considered academic powerhouses are just that: recruitment. One cannot win a championship without having championship players. In order to have a successful recruitment effort, one must recruit academic champions, if you will. This means targeting students that are fully prepared to do college-level work and those who have the capability but need some remediation.
In many countries, there is no such thing as open admission because, once it is determined that a student lacks academic acumen, that student is steered in a direction outside of academics that will allow them to be successful. Perhaps it is time for the United States to do the same.
Academics in relation to retention mean that not only should the students be able to do college-level work, but the instructional staff must set the bar high and demand that students reach for it. Earlier in my career in higher education, I had a student come to my office confused as to why she received a low overall grade for a course stating that she “turned in all the work.”
As kindly as possible, I explained that her work was substandard and that she had received detailed written feedback on what she needed to do. In actuality, it was painfully obvious that the student did not have the academic or intellectual ability to do college-level work.
This, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident and has played itself out over and over again across higher education: a student is ill prepared for whatever reason to do college-level work, but some “well-meaning” instructors pass them along. This works just fine … until the student encounters an instructor with high academic standards.
In actuality, all instructors should have high academic standards, which should not be a problem so long as the recruitment area is in place and academically capable students are enrolled. If students capable of succeeding academically in higher education are recruited, then situations like the one above do not happen. In that instance, the student ultimately dropped out of school short of a degree. Both the school and the student were damaged, damage that could have been avoided.
In the case of the academically capable yet underprepared student, there should be an effective system of remediation in place. This means having a method of testing/screening students prior to making a final offer of admission. If students show that they can do college-level work, then they are enrolled in college-level classes.
If the student shows the capability of doing college-level work but for whatever reason has some academic deficiencies, then those deficiencies need to be remediated. If the student shows an inability to do college-level work, that student should not be enrolled.
Following this model will greatly increase retention because the students destined to fail academically will never be put into that unenviable position.
Everyone who has graduated from college can speak about that academically capable young man or young woman who had to leave school because they were unable to pay their tuition and fees. I knew a few students who came to college and were making outstanding grades, only to walk around the dorm at the end of a semester partway through their degree programs saying their goodbyes; they were leaving school because of an inability to foot the bill.
If the government can spend billions of dollars to send the military overseas to fight on foreign soil using equipment that millions more was spent to develop, it is fairly certain that the government can find the money to fund the higher education of deserving students.
In fact, it makes no sense for some colleges and universities in the United States to have the designation “public” when they charge tuition and fees. In some other countries, a public education regardless of K-12 or higher education means just that: public and free.
If other countries can make this happen for their students, then the world’s remaining superpower should be able to fund higher education in the same manner following whatever model the aforementioned countries use.
In any experiment, to get accurate results one must control for the extraneous variables that might have a negative impact on whatever one is trying to examine or measure. If institutions of higher education controlled for recruitment, retention and financial aid in terms of their recruitment and retention efforts, they would see their graduation rates increase exponentially.
This is nothing new under the sun, as many selective institutions already use some variation of the above with great success. It is time for higher education across the board in the United States to do the same.
Dr. Carlos J. Minor is an assistant professor of urban education at Langston University-Oklahoma City Campus.