The Washington Monthly’s college dropout factories don’t prove the need for “best practices” to improve graduation rates, writes Kevin Carey on The Quick and the Ed. Minimal competence – The “Don’t Suck” Theory of Improving College Graduation Rates — is the first step.
The dropout factories story describes Nestor Curiel’s two years at Chicago State, which graduates only 13 percent of students. Advisers were clueless. The library closed early. Trash littered the classrooms. Students chatted to each other in class, ignoring or talking back to instructors. The elevators didn’t run. The financial-aid office gave inaccurate information. He couldn’t get a list of tutors.
Curiel transferred to University of Illinois’ Chicago campus.
Meanwhile, administrators were spending “lavishly on meals, alcohol and first-class airfare.” The university president took five relatives and a colleague with her on a nine-day Caribbean cruise for a “leadership conference.”
Well-run universities that have student-focused organizational cultures and are properly accountable to outside regulatory bodies simply don’t behave this way. Well-run universities are also much more successful in helping student earn degrees.
Chicago State takes all applicants. But other open access colleges with similar demographics have much higher graduation rates.
Some Illinois educators and legislators are considering performance-based funding, which would cut funding to low-performing colleges such as Chicago State and Northeastern Illinois University, which made the Monthly’s dropout factory list with an 18 percent graduation rate.
(State Rep. Fred) Crespo questions the value of some low-performing four-year schools, pointing to their abysmal graduation rates. Some students attending such schools might be better off at community colleges, he said.
The official graduation rates don’t distinguish between dropouts and transfers, who may go on to earn a degree elsewhere. However, Chicago State’s graduation rate is only 18 percent if transfers are counted as graduates. And, as Carey writes, “sometimes, as was the case with Nestor, students transfer because the university is doing a really terrible job.”