Low college graduation rates are students’ fault, say respondents to an AP-Stanford poll. Some also blamed parents, but most gave colleges a pass.
The belief that students are most at fault for graduation rates is a troubling sign for reformers who have elevated college completion to the forefront of higher education policy debates and pushed colleges to fix the problem, said Michael Kirst, professor emeritus of education and business administration at Stanford.
“The message is, ‘Students, you had your shot at college and failed and it’s your fault, not the college,’” Kirst said.
“Those supporting the completion agenda need to push back — hard — and emphasize the role colleges play in supporting or undermining student success,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, assistant professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After long emphasizing access to college, higher education policy debates have shifted only recently to focusing on getting students through. The Obama administration has called for the United States to again lead the world in number of college graduates by 2020.
The Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation and others are funding efforts to improve completion rates. States are setting ambitious completion goals.
Fifty-one percent of first-time, full-time students who entered college in 2003-04 had not earned a degree or credential within six years, the Education Department reported recently. Completion rates have declined slightly since the ’90s, possibly because more college students are older and trying to balance classes with work and family responsibilities.
Most of those polled were satisfied with their higher-education options.
Despite severe budget cuts and spiraling tuition at many public four-year colleges, those schools received the highest marks: Seventy-four percent in the poll called them excellent or good.
But others institutions got strong marks, too: Four-year private nonprofit colleges (71 percent), two-year public colleges (69 percent), private for-profit colleges (66 percent) and private for-profit trade schools (57 percent).
While 88 percent say economic prosperity and quality education are closely entwined, only 42 percent favor raising taxes to pay for better education.
Most students who leave college without a degree haven’t failed out, writes College Guide’s Daniel Luzer, quoting the Washington Monthly’s story on college drop-out factories. “They leave because they don’t perceive that the educational benefit of college exceeds the substantial expense of time and money.”