REPORT: Less Than Half of College Students Actually Graduate. (Matrix News: Noteworthy People, Programs, Funding, and Technological Advances in the World of Higher Education)

By Branch, Al | Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Higher Education, October 2001 | Go to article overview

REPORT: Less Than Half of College Students Actually Graduate. (Matrix News: Noteworthy People, Programs, Funding, and Technological Advances in the World of Higher Education)


Branch, Al, Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Higher Education


Over the past 17 years, the percentage of four-year college and university students who graduate has dipped more than 10 percentage points, despite increases in enrollment, according to the Council for Aid to Education and the National Governors Association.

About 42 percent of students entering four-year colleges or universities graduate, according to the most recent information from the associations, which is down from about 52 percent in 1983, which is considered a "conservative" estimate, according to one of the researchers and authors of the findings.

"It's the lowest it's been and it's been going down by increments," says Wes Habley, director of ACT's office of educational practices, formerly the American College Testing Service. "That's somewhat staggering when you think about the amount of money invested in people who don't finish."

A number of factors have contributed to the high dropout rate, according to Habley.

"Access is part of the answer," Habley says. "There is a notion of entitlement for the U.S. population" that everyone should have access to a college education "and some lack the requisite skills to succeed."

CAE's senior fellow Richard Hersh agrees that "we have increased access to college, but we haven't done very much about the quality." Instead of cutting back on access, he says he believes K-12 schools have to do a better job preparing people for college, and colleges need to do a better job keeping them there once they arrive.

In addition, changes in the U.S. tax laws in 1992 and 1998 have resulted in more student loans reaching middleclass families, increasing debt loads.

"There's been a great deal of discussion about the huge debt burden. …

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