"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, September 15, 2006

How Colleges Are Failing: Let Us Begin to Count the Ways

With the Spellings Commission Report ready for release, the media bombing campaign against colleges and univerisities is already underway, as evidenced by today's piece in the NY Times featuring the "failure" of higher ed to graduate more minority and poor students at a faster clip. According to a study from last spring by Maggie's sisters at Education Trust, large numbers of students are not graduating within six years of entering college.

We now take that fact, do no analysis of the underlying causes (or put them far down into the article), blame the colleges for not making it all better, and introduce a mantra into the media echo chamber that spills out that colleges are failing, colleges are failiing. Like I said, the bombing campaign has begun.

Here are a couple of variables that are ignored in the current round of handwringing:
  • The worst graduation rates cited in the study are in the poorest areas where large numbers of the students are enrolled half-time or less. Why? Some started families early, and most cannot afford to go full time, family or no family. Of course, Pell Grants have remained flat over the past five years and billions have been cut from student assistance programs, while tuition costs continue to go up.
  • Other factors? Many of these students come from poor families, who attended poor schools in poor communities. It doesn't take a seer like Margaret Spellings to know that these students are behind academically, and that they often need remediation and/or reduced course loads. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the NCLB charade to change the reality of childhood poverty that is the underlying root of this saddest of social realities.
  • Another factor: The Ed Trust study conveniently ignored to track or account for students who transferred out to other colleges from which they began or students who graduated after transferring in from other colleges: "Dr. Daniel also said that conventional methods for calculating graduation rates significantly understate how many students actually earn degrees. Universities calculate how many freshmen who enrolled as full-time students six years earlier have graduated. Students who transfer to other universities do not count as graduates, even if they graduate from another institution. Nor do students who transfer into the university and eventually graduate. About half of the undergraduates at both universities have transferred in from other institutions, primarily community colleges, officials said."

Are these facts likely to stop the drumbeat against colleges that are "failing students," particularly the poorest students that right-wing conservatives are so concerned about? This rhetoric is just more of the NCLB cynical hokum graduated and moved on to college.

It is interesting to hear NCLB advocates like college database entrepeneur, Kevin Carey, of Rotherham's sludge tank now offer this misplaced critique against colleges:

Kevin Carey, the research and policy manager at the Education Sector, a nonprofit research organization, said governors and legislatures could make it clear that the presidents’ continued employment hinged on improving graduation rates. “That’s what businesses do,” he said.

“When you have a system where virtually everyone fails, how is that different from designing a system in which the point is for people to fail?” Mr. Carey added. “No one can look at that and say this is the best we can do.”

No, he is not talking about NCLB, even though the critique fits perfectly. This new round of corporate-inspired madness is looking more like NCLB dumped down another rabbit hole.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:53 PM

    Hello all,

    I actually took the time out oh my busy college life to counter this poorly argued article in the NYT. My input as a college student is....It's my responsbility to graduate from college, not their job! If you're still interested you should read my post...


    All in all, I agree with School Matters over Kevin Carey over at Ed Sector.