LA TIMES: Higher Learning Critics say college graduation rates don’t tell the whole story

Career College Central Summary:

  • Pushing public colleges and universities to increase graduation rates has become a key objective for President Obama and California Gov. Jerry Brown, among others, as they seek to hold higher education institutions more accountable.
  • Encouraging students to get their degrees in four years rather than five or six — and, for community college students, in two years rather than three or four — will not only reduce tuition bills but free space for more students to enroll, many of these advocates say.
  • But a growing chorus of opposition argues that graduation rates by themselves may not accurately measure campus performance and that using the rates to determine allocation of federal and state funds would be especially troublesome.
  • Critics also contend that the increasing focus on timely degrees overlooks the reality that in a system such as the California State University, the nation's largest, many students are older, have jobs and families and are hard pressed to graduate "on time."
  • Nationally, only 19% of full-time students earn a bachelor's degree in four years at most public universities and only 36% at highly rated flagship research institutions, according to a recent report by the nonprofit group Complete College America. The cost to students is about $22,826 for every extra year at a public four-year school, according to the report, called Four-Year Myth.
  • Many students are taking fewer units — typically 12 credit hours per term rather than 15 — than they need to graduate in four years. And many are unfocused in their college studies and don't adhere to a structured plan, said Stan Jones, president of the Indianapolis-based advocacy group.
  • "We wouldn't expect everybody to graduate in four years but we would expect half of them to, and we're nowhere close to that," Jones said. "Evidence is that the longer students stay in school the less likely they are to graduate, so we're not doing students a favor" by maintaining the status quo.

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