Improving Graduation Rates: The Wrong Solution

Michigan’s Wayne State University has a very low completion rate. The latest figures indicate that an abysmal 32 percent of students graduate from the school.

But with new reform efforts targeting college graduation, Wayne State has decided to make some changes. The wrong changes. According to an article by David Jesse in the Detroit Free Press:

A new, tougher admissions policy proposed by Wayne State President Allan Gilmour would deny admission to the type of academic low-achiever who is currently accepted.

The new standard — which would apply to students seeking admission in fall 2013 — must be approved by the Board of Governors. It would not affect current students.”This can’t be an open-access university,” Gilmour told the Free Press in an exclusive interview Wednesday. “If we’re admitting people who we shouldn’t admit, that isn’t fair to them.”

Wayne State hasn’t had a lot of success graduating students in recent years; it has the lowest graduation rate in the state, in the 30 percent range. That’s something Gilmour said he became committed to increasing when he took over more than a year ago.

Critics worry that Gilmour’s new, more selective admissions policy would mostly exclude low-income, minority Detroit residents.

Furthermore, what’s really “not fair” here probably isn’t the admissions policy. As by Ben Miller and Phuong Ly argued in this magazine a year ago:

Most students who drop out of college don’t fail out of college. The worst colleges also tend to plead ignorance as to how to get better. But the strategies employed by colleges that successfully graduate at-risk students aren’t particularly groundbreaking. Researchers have been documenting effective methods of preventing dropouts for decades. Most are commonsensical: pay attention to students, and give them the support they need.

If a college has low graduation rates, it’s probably because it’s not doing a good job educating the students it has. It’s an institutional problem. Wayne State won’t actually solve its problems by just making the school more selective.

Furthermore, Wayne State is public college in Detroit; the whole point of the institution is to be accessible to low-income, minority Detroit residents.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer