It's the time of year when parents and students are finalizing their selection of a college or university for fall. They will likely attend multiple orientations, comparing academic programs, residence halls, aid packages and climbing walls. Graduation rates largely determine the overall cost of a college education, so I was especially interested to come across a new term today: "dropout factory. "
An article by Andrew Nichols for The Education Trust (edtrust.org) begins like this, "The Education Trust has continued our commitment to identifying four-year colleges and universities that fail to graduate the vast majority of their students in a timely fashion. " To make the list, an institution must have a six-year graduation rate below 18%--reside in the bottom 5% of U.S. institutions of higher education. The list includes 113 colleges and universities and is dominated by one particular for-profit, which doesn't surprise. (Find the list, which is searchable by state, here: edtrust.org/college-dropout-factories.)
But there were a few surprises, and the biggest for me was that, once corrected for the notoriously poor performing for-profits, the overall number of these 'factories' was not that big. Which is good news. Yet, there are too many and such institutions have a lot of work to do and answer for. One wonders which strategies they are using to recruit students for the fall. How they are answering the difficult questions; at least the ones folks know to ask.
In truth, no matter the recruiting strategy, many students and parents simply are not aware of the questions to ask. Here are my own suggestions.
Graduation rates--both four- and six-year rates. The national six-year graduation rate is 59% according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. 58% for publics and 65% for private institutions. Numbers below this merit an explanation; and many schools have very good ones. Be sure to ask, so you know what to expect.
Financial assistance--federal financial aid, as well as financial awards/assistance offered by the institutional itself. Be sure to ask how schools plan to extend financial assistance past the first four years, should you need it.
Transfer policies--in the event that your circumstances change, you'll need to know the portability (that is, value) of the credits earned at each institution you consider.
Student support--every institution will claim it's different than all the others, that it has found a way to treat each student with a unique kind of care. Many will repeat phrases like, "student-centered" or "where you are a name, not a number." Take the time to investigate the student supports each school has in place. Is there a Writing Center? An Academic Support Center? Are these places well staffed, open evenings, weekends? In the heat of the semester, these things matter.
The point is to understand the institution as well as you can, to see it not just as a potential new home for the next several years, but as an enterprise that must fulfill its promise to function well and on students' behalf.
So, while you are shopping for a t-shirt, and checking out the meal plan, use resources like the "Fast Facts" link to the NCES website: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/ to create your own list of questions.
Because the truth is, there are only a few dropout factories. But graduation rates are important and all over the news, so as students make difficult, very expensive decisions this summer, terms like "dropout factory" will take on lives of their own and acquire emotional weight. A seeming meaningfulness beyond what they actually indicate.
Not unlike school colors, or climbing walls.
(Article changed on July 3, 2015 at 13:03)