Don’t send more adults to college, unless they’re prepared to complete a degree, writes Frank Donoghue, an associate professor of English at Ohio University, in a Chronicle of Higher Education commentary. Donoghue is responding to Not Just Kid Stuff Anymore: The Economic Imperative for More Adults to Complete College,which predicts a shortage of high-school graduates in the coming years. To meet workforce needs, more adults must earn postsecondary credentials, the report concludes.
First, the notion that all Americans are entitled to a college education, regardless of their level of preparation, the degree of their intellectual curiosity, and, most basically, their ability to afford increasing tuition, is increasingly unreasonable.
. . . Second, the report calls for adult college students to finish their degrees. Across the board, the U.S. college-graduation rate currently stands at about 50 percent, according to The New York Times. Among other wealthy nations, only Italy has a lower graduation rate. That statistic is appalling enough, but further details are even worse: just 20 percent of first-time students at public community colleges get a degree or certificate within three years.
Non-traditional students, often juggling jobs and family duties, are even less likely to earn a degree, the professor points out. Instead of “a good job in the new global economy,” they’re likely to end up with no degree and lots of debt.
Finally, since traditional colleges and universities don’t have the capacity to educate an influx of adult students, many will go to for-profit colleges, which can expand quickly and tailor their classes for this market.
From the moment that Apollo Group (parent company of the University of Phoenix) went public in 1994, for-profit colleges have made higher education extremely convenient (course offerings year round, a vast online-learning infrastructure). These features are ideally suited to adult students, most of whom are likely working full-time and really need that convenience.
For-profit college students pay much more in tuition. If they try and fail, they’re more likely to be stuck with unaffordable debt. And these are high-risk students.
The completion rate for two-year for-profit certificate and degree programs is much higher than the community college graduation rate. If adult students are steered toward realistic goals, success rates will be high. That probably means a certificate in welding skills, not an unattainable bachelor’s degree.