Raising the College Graduation Rate

During this time of year when students are donning their caps and gowns to walk across the stage and accept their diploma, we can forget that too many who embark on the journey of getting a college education don’t complete it. That is the topic of an op-ed at the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet Blog by Paul Glastris, Editor in Chief of the Washington Monthly.

The problem is much more serious than many of us realize.

Nationally, 41 percent of students who start at four-year colleges as full-time freshmen fail to graduate after six years.

That’s an astonishingly high failure rate. Imagine if 41 percent of plane flights didn’t make it to their destinations, or 41 percent of phone connections dropped off before the call was over. Mass rebellion would ensue. High schools where 41 percent of the students don’t graduate are considered a disgrace; we label them “dropout factories” and subject them to all manner of statutory reforms, including, if they don’t improve, shutting them down. An institution of higher learning where 41 percent of students fail to graduate is, literally, just your average American college.

There are obviously many factors that contribute to this problem. One is the fact that colleges are not held accountable for improving this outcome. Glastris suggests that, until the government holds colleges accountable for the billions of dollars it invests in these institutions, good consumer information is the most effective tool college students have to beat these odds and put pressure on schools to improve. The best place to find that is in the book, The Other College Guide: A Road Map to the Right School for You.

The book offers step-by-step advice on how to get into and succeed at college, plus an alternative ranking of all the nation’s four-year schools based on how well they serve the students they admit. Graduation numbers weight heavily alongside key measures like “net price” (what schools actually charge students at different family income levels after all grant aid is included). Students can easily see which schools they’re likely to get into (test scores are shown but don’t factor into the rankings), and of those, which offer the lowest prices and the best chances of graduating.

Getting into college is a great first step. But in order to succeed, we have to find ways to ensure that students actually graduate.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.