Tag Archives: drop-out

Washington Hastens the Decline of For-Profits

The New York Times reported on Friday that the for-profit
University of Phoenix will close 115 physical campuses, dispossessing around
13,000 students and putting 800 employees out of work. Why now? Tamar Lewin, the story’s author, suggested that competition from other for-profit universities played a role. But she also cited the “steady drumroll of negative publicity about the sector’s
recruiting abuses, low graduation rates and high default rates” as a
possible cause.

Coincidentally, Lewin has been a major contributor to that drumroll. Over
the past few years she’s chronicled the fraud, abuse, and poor academic
outcomes associated with for-profits. More important in undermining
for-profits, however, is the federal government. Senator Tom Harkin has targeted
for-profits, commissioning multiple investigations and issuing massive reports
detailing the failings of the industry. But Washington has done more than just
talk. As Lewin notes, the federal government’s threat of withholding federal
aid from for-profits whose students failed to meet the Department of
Education’s standards led the University of Phoenix to push away students who
did not have “a reasonable likelihood of success.” In other words,
many students for whom a for-profit college was their last chance at obtaining
a degree were denied an opportunity. Corroborating this point, Lewin suggests
that this new policy significantly lowered enrollment and, subsequently, the
University’s profits. Unfortunately, this makes sense. Most students at
for-profits come from untraditional backgrounds and as such have low chances of
“success.” But here’s the flipside: these institutions take students
who are unsuited for traditional, not-for-profit universities and provide them
with a flexible course schedule and a degree in a practical field. They take
students who cannot thrive elsewhere and pay for that admirable quality in bad
graduation rates.

The Department of Education doesn’t seem to care about
the complicated picture. Its bureaucrats are more concerned that these
institutions elude its purview and see these regulations as a means of bringing
them in line. As a consequence, they’ve undermined the very cause that
supposedly motivates their work: expanding educational opportunities for those
who need it most. 

Student VoicesWhy I Dropped Out of a MOOC

Early in the summer, a friend and I enrolled in Introduction to Sociology, the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) recently discussed by Princeton Professor Mitchell Duneier. Prof. Duneier taught 40,000 online students via six weeks of free reading assignments, lectures, and discussions, interspersed with weekly quizzes and two exams.

I quit three weeks into the course. The videos were distracting. I felt disconnected from the professor, as if the face I saw on-screen was a detached third party serving up neatly packaged bits of information for massive consumption. It felt sterile.

Prof. Duneier ‘s article praises the way technology can overcome the barriers of time and distance: thanks to video discussions and online forums, “my audience became as visible to me as the students in a traditional lecture hall.” But that’s the problem: audience, not students. Seated in front of a camera, the professor has no choice but to talk at his far-flung class, instead of talking to or with them. MOOCs are by nature impersonal: they’re massive. Despite his best efforts, a professor can’t possibly know 40,000 students, or even a fraction of them. They’re faceless, nameless, anonymous, blurring together into one conglomerate blob of class-takers. He can’t interact with them. He can’t gauge their needs and adjust his method and content accordingly. He doesn’t know them.

Likewise, students, aware of their anonymity, cannot possibly get to know their professor. There is no opportunity for trust- and relationship-building. My MOOC included a discussion group, but participation was limited to a handful of students; the other 39,990 of us simply watched. Prof. Duneier responded faithfully to student questions, but he was only able to answer those questions that generated the most online interest. He guesses that these were probably the “most meaningful” questions to his students, but without some authority present to guide the discussion, what’s to say those questions were most relevant, incisive, or important?

MOOCs will never rival brick-and-mortar classrooms in quality of education. With that said, Prof. Duneier’s article does highlight two real benefits of MOOCS. These courses provide opportunities for students who otherwise would have no such educational access. MOOCs also give professors a unique opportunity to test new methods, collect large numbers of student reviews, and investigate a wider range of student ideas and opinions. For these reasons we shouldn’t discount MOOCs entirely. But we shouldn’t mistake a MOOC for a classroom.

The Community Colleges:
High Promise, High Drop-Out Rates

The problem is stated bluntly in this report from the American Association of Community Colleges, entitled, “Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future.” The report contains an overly-dramatic framing, with dire assertions such as this opening in the Executive Summary: “The American Dream is imperiled. Upward mobility, the contract between one generation of Americans and the rest, is under siege.” But the basis for the report is undeniable. A section on “Student Success” notes that only 46 percent of community college students pursuing a degree or certificate earn one, transfer to a four-year college, or are still enrolled after six years. Worse, “Nearly half of all community college students entering in the fall term drop out before the second fall term begins.”

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High Promise, High Drop-Out Rates

A Dubious Move by the University of Texas

If college and university officials finally want to solve
the longstanding problems ofmediocre
retention rates and pitiful graduation rates, then a magic, off-the-shelf
solution awaits them.

It’s called MyEdu, a private company that claims its website
will help colleges solve the problem of disappearing students. How? By
allowing students to see such titillating facts as professors’ official student
evaluations and the grade distributions for courses they teach.

Continue reading A Dubious Move by the University of Texas

Our Dysfunctional Campuses Will Have to Change

Victor Davis Hanson has a brilliant essay here on how dysfunctional our colleges and universities have become.  Here are two excerpts:

 “I noticed about 1990 that some students in my classes at CSU were both clearly illiterate and yet beneficiaries of lots of federal cash, loans, and university support to ensure their graduation.  And when one had to flunk them, an entire apparatus was in place at the university to see that they in fact did not flunk.  Just as coaches steered jocks to the right courses, so too counselors did the same with those poorly prepared but on fat federal grants and loans.  By the millennium, faculty were conscious that the university was a sort of farm and the students the paying crop that had to be cultivated if it were to make it all the way to harvest and sale — and thus pay for the farmers’ livelihood.”

 Later Hanson explains why change is coming, however slowly:

“… what cannot go on will not go on — at least for most universities without the billion-dollar plus endowments.  The present reckoning is brought on not by introspection, self-critique, or concern for our increasingly poorly educated students, but by money, or rather the lack of it.  Higher education is desperately searching for…

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About All Those STEM Dropouts…

science_lab_students.jpgThe New York Times proclaimed recently that science educators and others are vitally concerned that high dropout rates of students studying math, science, and engineering (the “STEM” disciplines) will imperil our nation’s technological leadership. There is a shortage of people in these fields, it is argued, and efforts to increase numbers are thwarted by dropout rates that run from 40 to as high as 60 percent (for those originally pre-med majors).

I want to make two points. First, the high dropout rates are not only far from surprising; indeed, they should be expected, and we should rejoice that someone in higher education is trying to maintain standards of academic excellence. Second, for well over half of a century, STEM advocates have cried “shortages of key personnel” and “crisis” when none really existed, showing a lamentable lack of scientific objectivity and intellectual honesty in the process. I fear this may be happening again.

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From A Reader

Here’s a letter from a reader addressing some of the travails of technology at her college and the role that they seem to play in the dropout rate:

I went back to college this semester after dropping out 18 years ago for a family obligation.
I came from a wealthy family. My entire family were either professors, teachers or principals, graduating from Washington Univ., Vassar, etc. I strongly believe there are other factors than background. That is too convenient.
This semester, I am still making straight A’s. However, I believe there are other quantifiable factors that force students to drop out, not related to “background”, “race”, “low-economic status”.
I go to a college with a 30% graduation rate who did not give me labs or software that were integral to my classes.

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Why Are Graduation Rates So Low?

Of every 100 kids who enter American high schools, only about 20 obtain a bachelor’s degree within a decade. That is why the proportion of adult Americans with baccalaureate degrees is rising relatively slowly, and why the U.S. has fallen behind a number of other nations in the proportion of young adults with college degrees.
There are three points of attrition that keep new high school students from becoming college graduates. Some do not make it through high school. Some high school graduates never go to college. But the largest rate of attrition is seldom discussed: 40-50 percent of those who matriculate in colleges and universities do not obtain a degree within six years of entering college. And a majority of new freshman does not get a college degree in the four years that most of them expect to acquire it.
All of this must change, and radically, if President Obama’s goal of America regaining its leadership in the world in degree attainment is to be achieved. A lot of attention has gone into the second area of attrition -failure to continue on to college, but less attention has been paid at the college level to the third factor -college drop-outs.

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Are Colleges “Failure Factories”?

Former Commissioner of Education Statistics Mark Schneider has caused a bit of a stir with a paper in which he argues that colleges are getting a free pass on a huge problem – a very high drop-out rate. Our colleges are failure factories for literally millions of students, Schneider says, and I agree.
To be sure, our statistics on college dropouts are imperfect. Students move from full to part-time status, or change schools, and sometimes get measured as drop-outs when in fact they succeed. The reality is, however, that over half of students entering four year colleges and universities do not graduate within the advertised four year curriculum, and roughly one-third do not graduate within eight years even using better measures of dropping out.
I think there are four major reasons for this. First, of course, there is a small proportion that drop out because of adverse family circumstances that force them into the full-time work force or into caring for relatives. While some claim this is an enormous problem, the vast amount of student loans available has reduced the number of students who drop out for strictly financial reasons. Second, there is more than a grain of truth to the collegiate lament that high school graduates are often ill-prepared, with mediocre qualifications in such basic areas as writing, civic knowledge and math skills. Anyone who has looked at results of the NAEP or TIMSS tests knows that Americans on average graduate from high school with at best a shoddy intellectual base.

Continue reading Are Colleges “Failure Factories”?