Friday, March 25, 2016

More on college readiness/success & graduation rates

This article caught my eye, in part because it appears to offer the beginnings of some actual, data-driven answers* to the questions we batted around in the comment thread of Frankie's post earlier this week.  The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some passages that struck me as especially relevant:

As more college students take on debt to finance their education, getting them to the finish line is critical. College graduates enjoy higher wages and lower unemployment rates, giving them a fighting chance of repaying student loans. And with four out of five black students borrowing for college, ensuring that they graduate could mean the difference between promoting economic mobility and exacerbating the racial wealth gap. 
Administrators at N.C. State found that students teetering on the edge of dropping out were mostly under financial, not academic, strain, so the school provided them with more institutional aid, a move that has disproportionately affected black students, according to Chancellor Randy Woodson. He said the university is also using data to track academic performance and intervene when students start falling behind.

All of this tallies with my experience (and with the experience of many of the commenters on the linked IHE article): admissions offices at institutions that are at least somewhat selective do a pretty good job, so most of our students are intellectually capable of graduating.  Some may have problems with things like study skills and time management, especially with larger projects, and some combination of faculty and academic support services can help them deal with those issues. Some may have mental health issues that become apparent or acute in the college years; those students, too, can be appropriately supported (and/or encouraged to take a brief leave to concentrate on self-care and stabilization of their condition -- not good for graduation rates, I suppose, but still the right thing to do in some cases). 

But many of the issues our students face are caused, or at least exacerbated, by the larger economic structures in which they, and we, are operating, and we just can't fix those from within the classroom, or even the university.  When a student is struggling academically because of outside pressures, no amount of academic intervention is going to help, though we can sometimes suggest strategies to minimize the damage; often, however, those strategies are going to include dropping some classes and/or taking a leave, which will run afoul of systems set up to minimize time to graduation -- which can be entirely well-intentioned, but still counterproductive if the goal is to make sure the student gets an actual education, not just a diploma.  

*Or maybe it raises some data-driven questions? This isn't my field of expertise, but it appears to me that the proposed answers are more speculative than the observed patterns, which do raise useful questions about what is going right at the institutions that are successfully graduating especially-vulnerable** students. 

**And "vulnerable" strikes me as the right word here, with the key included fact, mentioned above, that attending/trying to graduate from college can actually make people *more* vulnerable, by saddling them with loans that they can't discharge even in bankruptcy.  That's a key change from the "look to the right; look to the left" days, when the ratio of what a semester's tuition and living expenses cost to what a student could earn in a summer was lower. 



  1. ^ this.
    Thank you Cassandra.

    It is no better in Canada, not really.
    Stats Can doesn't well capture/measure real data ( )

    so knowing much about the problem is hard.

    Those that do graduate owe on average $25,000+ And some go back to scool when they can't find work.

    And then people say stuff like this - "tuition is not an insurmountable barrier" says Paul Davidson of Universities Canada speaking to members of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.
    To his credit, he was trying to point out people get '"too fixated on the price tag" when it comes to tuition, and don't consider supports available, such as scholarships, bursaries, financial aid from universities and income tax deductions."

    But discussions that are limited to $$, ignore the social, cultural, historical realty we live in.

  2. Cassandra, it is like you have entered my brain and replicated my exact pattern of synapses. (I am drunk now, so that feeling of euphoria you're experiencing might not be the result of your own imbibing. You're welcome---or should I say "your welcome.") Anyhoo...

    Your pseudonymn could not be more appropriate. You have summarised the problem and thereby indicated the solution, but will anyone with the wherewithall to to do so take your message to heart and take action?


    And that makes me fucking miserable.

  3. The dumbest, dumbest thing? Off-track exam responses that simply IGNORE the question asked, often to the point of bizarreness. As though I'm somehow magically not going to notice the blatant irrelevance and lack of knowledge!

  4. Sorry, meant to reply to "dumbest things" thread, not this one.

    1. One of the dumbest thing my students do is to enter an answer that is correct for another question, but wrong for the question they're on at the time.


  5. And those of us at open admission schools have an even worse row to hoe: we have students without the abilities who are taking on debt to try to complete a degree. And sometimes it is too much for them. I often advise lower class loads than my college would like simply because these students have families and full-time jobs. And pulling a four course load does not work for most of them. I also worry that those who most need the support will not access it because so many of our support mechanisms are staffed primarily by white and otherwise privileged people. Maybe that shouldn't matter, but I suspect it does.