Get a load of these college graduation rates. The New York Times reportsthat, in Texas, only about 61 percent of people who enroll in 4-year schools earn a degree within 8 years of starting. A mere 9 percent of Texans who enroll in community college graduate within four years. In Utah, the numbers are 45 percent and 20 percent.
The Times draws these data from a new report (PDF) by Complete College America, a non-profit that aims to raise the share of Americans with college degrees. The report is news, because it presents very new data, counting part-time and transfer students in its calculations. Federal data leave these students, who make up more than 40% of college enrollment, out of account.
The report doesn’t offer data for every state, because some didn’t cooperate. But it managed to get the data for 33 states, which is quite a feat.
The report's main conclusion: Time is the enemy. The longer it takes students to make their way to the finish line, the less likely they are to get there at all. Three of four college students juggle other commitments, like family or jobs. (The image of the college student as a 20 year old studying full time on a leafy campus somewhere is very out of date.) Those other commitments conspire with poor preparation in high school to keep students from graduating.
How do states and colleges turn things around? The report offers a number of recommendations. Among them: Reduce the amount of time students have to spend in class. Create predictable block schedules so that working students can plan their studies better. Allow some students to get their degrees faster by studying year round and in shorter academic terms. Embed remediation into the normal curriculum “so students don’t waste time before they start earning credits.” And give students better information on different programs costs, graduation rates and job placement track record.
The report does find some bright spots. As the Times reports, it “praises Tennessee's 27 Technology Centers, where the degree completion rate is 75 percent”:
Tech students, with an average age of 32, sign up for a program, not individual courses, and they come for seven hours a day, Monday through Friday, with classes ending by 3 p.m., allowing them to hold an evening job or care for their children after school. Instead of separate remedial courses, the centers have a required foundation course, in which each student learns skills needed for a program.”
Technical schools like Tennessee’s Technology Centers don’t really get the attention or respect they deserve, because they don't evoke traditional visions of college. If Complete College America succeeds, it might just change attitudes.