Overall, only around 60% of the students who enter public universities graduate in six years. This observation is usually followed by lots of numbers on the effects of race and class and whether students live on or off campus and the like. But neither they NY Times piece nor, so far as any review I can find tells me, the university presidents' new book says anything about why we want students to go to college and what they are supposed to be learning there. What good does it do to have a debate about how to get kids to go to college when we have no idea what college is for? When I was at the University of Minnesota in the late 1980s they commissioned their own study of why students dropped out, and the overwhelming explanation given by the students they interviewed was that the education they were being offered seemed boring and pointless to them. They just didn't see the value of what they were learning.
At its top levels, the American system of higher education may be the best in the world. Yet in terms of its core mission — turning teenagers into educated college graduates — much of the system is simply failing.Only 33 percent of the freshmen who enter the University of Massachusetts, Boston, graduate within six years. Less than 41 percent graduate from the University of Montana, and 44 percent from the University of New Mexico. The economist Mark Schneider refers to colleges with such dropout rates as "failure factories," and they are the norm.
Maybe instead of tweaking the financial aid system we should take a serious look at how we structure higher education and what we teach students in four-year colleges.
If it were up to me, I would turn half the four-year colleges in the country into community colleges focused on technical and business training. Then I would make the remaining four-year colleges much tougher and more intellectual, forcing the students through rigorous programs in math, science, literature and thinking.
But that's just my suggestion, and I would be willing to entertain others. What makes me crazy is the continued insistence that there is nothing wrong with higher education that can't be fixed by more financial aid and a little counseling of freshman. The problem is that universities don't know what it is they want to teach or how to go about teaching it. The problem is that we don't know what it means to be educated. As things stand now, students finish college mostly because it is a sort of habit of the middle class, so sticking it out shows your commitment to middle class life and its values. No wonder poor and minority students can't be bothered.