kitchen table math, the sequel: NYT writer: just sit those kids next to kids who CAN graduate college!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NYT writer: just sit those kids next to kids who CAN graduate college!

Public universities are damaging the American economy and failing their students, says New York Times writer David Leonhardt. Only half of those who enroll complete a Bachelor's Degree in 6 years. "Failure Factories" are the norm, he says.

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. Economic growth in this decade was on pace to be slower than in any decade since World War II — even before the financial crisis started.

So identifying the causes of the college dropout crisis matters enormously, and a new book tries to do precisely that.

Yes, what could possibly be the source of the dropout crisis?

Yes, inadequate precollege education is a problem. But high 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.

So what problems are there that schools could solve?

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.

Let's see if I have this right: a student goes to a less rigorous school than he could have, and a student doesn't mortgage her future to the hilt! These are the sources of dropouts?

In effect, well-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.”

This is as close as the author gets to an answer to why undermatching is bad: attending an under performing school, as defined by low graduation rates, because those schools produce more dropouts!

Of course, he implies something more: if the student just went to a college that does a GOOD job of producing graduates, why, they would be more likely to graduate. Culture is king, no?

But such an argument is just the college version of the old busing argument: black kid can't read? Sit her next to a white kid who can! That'll teach her!

Is that what the authors meant? Don't look to the article to clarify.

The article does mention one other source of high dropout rate: a lack of incentive by students to bother to graduate.

Failure has become acceptable. Students see no need to graduate in four years. Doing so, as one told the book’s authors, is “like leaving the party at 10:30 p.m.” Graduation delayed often becomes graduation denied.

Actually, this is a point against the interest of the authors'. does it really mean graduation is denied? Or is it a statistical quirk caused by counting only 6 years after entrance? A useful data point would be the distinction between students still in school after 6 years and those no longer working on a degree. Likewise, what are the incomes of the students at the point of departure from school?

But the original premise that students who have the skills to complete college are not doing so remains unsupported. Is it true, or is it just that we will think and do anything to avoid confronting the disaster that is K-12?


lgm said...

>>But the original premise that students who have the skills to complete college are not doing so remains unsupported. Is it true, or is it just that we will think and do anything to avoid confronting the disaster that is K-12?

According to ths article, which is quoting a U.S. D. of Ed. study "Andswers in the Tool Box" by Clifford Adelman , it is true: It says app. 14% in the highest SES who fall in the most academically prepared category of students fail to graduate.

Anonymous said...

My kids are undermatched, I think, and least the second and third. They could all have gone to a rigorous private school, but probably not gotten scholarships for various reasons, including that we could not afford all the extra-curricular types of things that make their applications look spectacular. The first went to a private, selective school, and it has about wiped me out financially, and that child has graduated (summa cum laude, phi beta kappa) with a student debt and is having trouble finding a job now, and has a student debt. So she is reduced to applying to work in coffee shops for now, despite her wonderful academic achievements, hardly likely to be able to pay back the debt in a timely manner.

The second goes to public university, and got some scholarship there because of academic merit, and is doing fine, not likely to drop out, but still has to borrow some money to get through, and I am even further in debt myself trying to help him pay for it.

I think possibly the difference may be the environment. The private, selective schools expect students to graduate and provide a lot of counseling, and everyone around my first child expected to graduate, and so there is peer support. A public university is less selective, there is less expectation to graduate, and the environment around the student really is somewhat different, with lots around my second child simply not having the same attitudes about graduating, plus more of a sink or swim let the students be, less "in parentis loco" attitude from the admin, counselors, teachers, whatever. Less peer support. So if difficulties arise, not as many places to turn.

Plus, if a good student is going to a non-selective university, then there are financial issues. Even taking a year off to work these days makes it impossible to save enough money for a year in school any more, which is aobut $25,000 even in public university, and it is impossible to make enough on a part-time job and go to school full-time to make ends meet, pay tuition, etc.

So, my third child is doing community college before university, and is certainly as intelligent as my first child and would be just as likely to succeed in a private school. But I can't afford two in college any more, and hardly one. Plus, I have to ask him to hold off on university until my second is out. If you look at the date he graduated from high school, and first started taking community college classes, it would see that it is taking him more than 6 years. (However, he graduated from high school when he was 14, and has attended 3 different community colleges and already has more than 60 credits and is 17 now, so there is other reasons to take more than 6 years).

Another thing is that at private schools, you go full-time. My first child's tuition was the same, regardless of how many credits she took. At university, by pay by credit hour, and don't have to be full-time, so if you do have to work while going to school, assuming you can even find work in this economy, it can take longer. So cutting off after 6 possibly skews the results.

If they want to reduce dropout rates, they should make university more affordable. I don't know what all these statistics take into account, but academic success in high school is just one factor, and maybe does not even correlate.

Allison said...

--It says app. 14% in the highest SES who fall in the most academically prepared category of students fail to graduate.

But it's ludicrous to think that this group is in anyway financially failing by not graduating in 6 years.

Nearly every friend I had in college fell into this category. Several were busy making a lot of money for a 20something--making $60-120 an hour as software engineers, starting their own startups, working as financial analysts. They and others were emotionally and psychologically not getting anything out of being in college. One joined the Marines, others dropped out and lived off their card counting skills. For them, the degree--or the failures and opportunity costs they would have encountered by being in school-- was an impediment at the time to their success. When that changed, they went back and finished as needed to advance their careers, or earn the certificate needed to match their career aspirations.

Yes, several saw no reason to leave school, but how is that an economic failure if it doesn't hurt your later career? You could say it's society's failure for making 40 the new 20, and I'd agree, but that doesn't hit the point that the schools are the ones failing these "kids" who are adults.

Crimson Wife said...

A lot of the problem is a lack of motivation. The folks I know who never finished their degrees had the brains to do so if that was what they really wanted. But most of them decided that it wasn't worth the time and money when they didn't really need a degree for their careers. Some of those who had dropped out did go back later and finish after having experienced a job loss (which reduced the opportunity cost). Others still are getting by with 2-3 years' worth of college.

rocky said...

But it won’t solve the system’s biggest problems — the focus on enrollment rather than completion, the fact that colleges are not held to account for their failures. “Crossing the Finish Line” makes it clear that we can do better.

When we define incomplete college degrees as a failure of the college rather than the student, the college degree will become worthless through social promotion. This has irresistible appeal to government legislators. With the wisdom of the great Oz they can raise everyone's earning potential by giving everyone a degree.

le radical galoisien said...

"the college degree will become worthless through social promotion. "

This assumes that the value of a college degree lies in its social selectivity.

It really has more to do with the democratisation of education I think. People who would have been working in West Virginia coal mines 60 years ago wouldn't have dreamt of going to college, now are candidates for admission.

The thing I see as particularly problematic as that "oh to have a good job you need a degree". So many job requirements are like, "Bachelor's degree required". Bachelor's degree in what? What distinctions would the employer like us to have? (None mentioned.)

Especially problematic outside the sciences.

To me, I think employment needs to be more transcript-focused. The coursework series (and the corresponding grades) someone has taken is more informative than whether that someone has a degree.

I'm also complaining because I'll have a 100 credits by the end of my 3rd semester, and prolly 120 by my 4th or 5th, enough to complete one of my majors, but until I actually graduate I'm not employable.

ChemProf said...

When an employer just wants a bachelor's degree, with no field specified, they are looking for someone who can deal with bureaucracy, jump through hoops, and generally handle the working world. That's what the BA degree has become a marker for, that and some very basic writing/reading skills. And that's why just finishing your major won't cut it, and employers don't want to look at transcripts or care about total credits.

For a lot of those kinds of positions, a high school diploma should really do it, but they don't trust that high school students have those skills. If they stop trusting that college students do, then watch out, which is what happens if social promotion rises to the college levels.

ChemProf said...

By the way, what happened to the "public humiliation" thread?

Anonymous said...

I was wondering the same thing.


MiaZagora said...

I'd like to know what happened to the public humiliation thread as well.

Even though it was many, many years ago, I had a teacher who regularly used the public humiliation method for silly reasons. As you can see, it's not a lesson easily forgotten.

VickyS said...

Who made the original post? Posts can be removed by their authors.

rocky said...

This assumes that the value of a college degree lies in its social selectivity.

That's not what I meant. Of course I want the children of the coal miners to know more than their fathers. But the Wizard of Oz told the scarecrow he didn't need a brain, just a degree.

Years ago the high school diploma meant something, but now it mostly means that the student put in twelve years without getting expelled.

Colleges are putting freshmen through remedial courses because, unlike high schools, they still require some level of knowledge to get a degree.

If the reformers succeed in placing the blame for incomplete degrees on the colleges, we will have complementary degrees that the students will feel entitled to receive. But at least we can get rid of those pesky remedial courses. It will be one seamless gentle ride from preschool to baccalaureate.

When that happens, employers will turn to private testing companies like ACT, SAT, and GMAT, and the university system will be on the road to obsolescence.

SteveH said...

Something like this happened to a post last week. Then the post reappeared.

VickyS said...

That gentle ride from preschool to the baccalaureate is fast becoming a reality. For a nice discussion from north of the border, see Ivory Tower Blues and check out the author's website.

As quoted in the Toronto Star in 2007, "We're becoming more like high schools and that's not a good thing," said James Côté, a professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario and co-author of the new book Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis. "It's become a mass education system and whenever you do that, standards have got to drop to keep everybody in."

Many of us KTMers have kids that are approaching the college years. I suspect we will be shocked at how much of what concerns us about elementary and secondary school is repeated in college.

And at what cost! Intellectual, financial, personal and societal.

Côté has also written a couple of other books, Arrested Adulthood: The Changing Nature of Maturity and Identity and Generation on Hold: Coming of Age in the Late Twentieth Century, that look like interesting reading.

Ari said...

"When that happens, employers will turn to private testing companies like ACT, SAT, and GMAT, and the university system will be on the road to obsolescence."

that would save Americans billions and billions of dollars. No tuition, no student loan defaults, no mishaps as a result of campus drinking parties, etc...

PhysicistDave said...

The sociologist Charles Murray has some essays available on the Web that suggest that way too many kids are going to college. His basic point is that if the kids do not actually enjoy the coursework involved in a true liberal education, they should simply go a vocational route and get a worthwhile job that they can enjoy and be good at.

I think he is a bit too pessimistic about the potential of the average person to enjoy and benefit from a liberal education. However, the K-12 experience of most kids today, along with the popular culture, does not exactly encourage kids to enter college ready to develop their full potential.

And it is debatable how many colleges any longer try to offer a true liberal education.

So, pragmatically, he may be right.

Dave Miller in Sacramento

Crimson Wife said...

"When that happens, employers will turn to private testing companies like ACT, SAT, and GMAT, and the university system will be on the road to obsolescence."

This is already happening to a certain extent with the MBA. My DH works in the financial services industry and when he was looking for a new position earlier this year, he kept seeing the phrase "MBA or CFA required". The CFA is a private certification that requires passing 3 very hard day-long exams.

My DH has passed 2 of the 3 CFA exams, and told me that they are both more difficult and more relevant than anything he did in business school (which he paid nearly six figures to attend plus the opportunity cost). He's been telling his subordinates to skip the MBA and just get the CFA instead.