[Re: August Editor's Note, "The Dismal State of Graduation Rates"] I actually found much in your column about which to be positive, primarily because of my perspective of someone at an institution that does much
better than the situation you describe. As a general rule, the small liberal arts college in the United States today is doing a much better job of retention and graduation than the data you reported, and I wish that you
had indicated this to be the case. If you look at the graduation rates of most of the first- and second-tier small liberal arts colleges reported in the U.S. News ranking, for example, you'll see that they're doing considerably better than the six year graduation rate of 60 percent that you cite. I think that this is because it is too easy for a student to "become lost" at a larger university; the attention that students receive at smaller
institutions does, indeed, pay off. Your message was very important: the larger IHEs have to do a much better job than they currently do of retaining students and seeing them through to graduation. I hope that your words will generate some action to this end nationwide.
GREGORY MAHLER, Provost
Corporations and universities do not have control over all the reasons employee and students leave, yet everyone seems to think that they should. Universities and colleges provide students with all the necessary resources to succeed and to stay in school: Amenities from food courts to basketball courts, libraries with late evening hours, tutoring centers, residental/honors college, freshmen orientation classes, mental health
clinics, Web access in dorms, and an array of social functions that range from sports to fine arts. Only about 33 percent of corporations provide their workers with Employee Assisted Programs to deal with mental health/addiction issues that effect worker morale and productivity. If corporations provided more employee retention resources, would they lose less employees? I don't think so. Several years ago the Kentucky Council for Post Secondary Education decided to "reward" Kentucky colleges and universities for retention efforts beyond a certain percentage. Discussions with academic advisors and instructors revealed several issues. Would it be against professional ethics to encourage a student to remain in school when it is clearly against her best interests, simply because the university is rewarded for every student it keeps? At what
point does the university- and society-cease to gain the benefits of a more educated workforce if it reaches a 80-90 percent retention and graduation rate if the economy produces only 20 percent of the total professional jobs? There is something subversive about thinking that education from cradle to grave is the panacea for all of society's ills, and that a more educated work force will make us more globally competitive.
I am wondering if the student who dropped out of college and is delivering pizzas by night and mowing lawns by day will learn how to manage a business first-hand and, when she is ready, will attend night
classes to learn how to manage her start-up pizza business better. She'll certainly be ready to learn, and her only concern won't be if she can get tickets to the Friday night basketball game but if she can get child care.
WILLIAM SALAZAR, Research Associate
Morehead State University
What is most concerning to me is the lack of recognition that enrollment increases at IHEs are going to have an inverse relationship with graduation rates if academic standards are to be held constant. Whereas in the past, let's say 40 years ago, the graduation rate at many colleges would have been higher, we also must understand that the demographics of the students enrolling in these schools was very different. They were better prepared educationally (and perhaps emotionally), wealthier, and less focused on the pre-professional function of higher education; they were also more male and white. The focus today by American society forces students to see higher education straight out of high school as the only alternative,
whether they are personally prepared for it or not. This does not even begin to address the need for a broader commitment by parents to preparing their families for the realities that will come when their children reach college age. Few families have saved any money for paying for college, thus compelling their students
to work during school (one factor which research has shown negatively affects retention). Additionally, parents often lack the discipline and wisdom required to help their students choose the proper IHE
for them. Instead, they allow immature kids who may have had little supervision at home during high school to wander far from home, where their latent inhibitions will be erased and they flounder in "fun," while
largely ignoring the classroom. None of this denies the important work that IHEs must do to address proper recruiting methods and retention efforts. However, University Business (like many politicians) needs to move beyond the superficial and recognize that the issues are deep and complicated and that the beneficial outcomes might just include little Johnny leaving college to work for a few years.
J. SCOTT WRIGHT, Director of Admissions
University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center
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