Tag Archives: graduation

The California College System under Scrutiny

A recent report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), entitled “Best Laid Plans: The Unfulfilled Promise of Public Higher Education,” explores a fair number of problems the California college system faces. However, I don’t think it covers them all.

The report states openly and rightly the problems that California’s public colleges face are not primarily a function of declining revenues. As it notes, “the real danger is a fundamental failure by today’s trustees and system leaders to apply the same creativity and thoughtfulness that informed the Master Plan to a new world of reduced resources and a shrinking tax base.”

This point is crucial. The behemoth California college system has been fed an enormous amount of money, but there is obviously a limit to how much more the citizens can provide. In just the last five years, tuition at the UC system has gone up nearly 75% and at the CSU system by nearly 85%. And California’s taxpayers already pay steep sales, property and income taxes–among the highest in the nation. It is hard to imagine that much more can be squeezed from either the students or the taxpayers.

The report documents in detail some of the dramatic problems the system faces, including:

  • Low graduation rates at the CSU system: only 17.2% of new full-time freshmen graduate within 4 years, and only 52.4% within 6 years.
  • The leaders of the California public college system have a severe Edifice Complex, looking constantly to increase the amount of buildings and other infrastructure, much of it unnecessary.
  • The leaders are also reluctant to close or consolidate low-enrollment programs, and too easily eager to add new ones.
  • There is considerable administrative bloat, with the compensation of the top administrators increasingly over-generous, even while the taxpayers and students are impoverished.

I would note some other major problems:

The California community colleges have a grotesquely high drop-out rate: only 20% of CCC students either got an AA degree or transfer to a regular college.

  • The CCC system also spends way too much on recreational courses (courses that are meant to provide recreational outlets to adults). While these courses are supposed to pay their own way, they utilize the system’s physical resources.
  • The whole CSU system has suffered endemic “mission creep” regarding remedial education. Under the wise original 1960 master plan, CSU would take only college-ready students, while those needing remedial education (in math and English) were supposed to go to the huge and inexpensive CCC system. Along the way, the CSU system developed a costly remediation system. Now, half of all incoming CSU take remedial math or English or both.
  • Professors and administrators of the CSU system have over the years pushed for more and more focus on research, with tenure-track professors expected to publish, leaving much of the teaching to adjuncts. It is unclear, to say the least, that this has really benefitted the citizens of the state.

The report calls upon the UC Regents and the CSU Trustees to reassert control and enact necessary reforms, including establishing clear measures of productivity; re-prioritizing the academic mission of the college, restoring core curricula; rewarding good teaching; cutting back on administrative bloat; and restoring academic freedom and true intellectual diversity.

I can’t help feeling that the report is an exercise in naiveté. The administrators and faculty are agents in an institution that suffers from the principal/agent problem. Because the real principals — taxpayers, students and parents — have little knowledge of and even less power over the workings of the colleges for which they pay, the agents (faculty and administrators) can run them for self-serving purposes. Until this problem is rectified by radical reform, I see little hope for change any time soon.


Gary Jason is a philosophy instructor and a senior editor of Liberty, and is the author of Dangerous Thoughts.

Finally, Some Disclosure by the ABA

on the undergrad and graduate levels–typically admit students and encourage
them to take on onerous amounts of debt, without first giving those prospective
students the actual data about their chances of finding work in that major
field afterwards. This is just as true, by the way, for non-profit as it is for
for-profit schools.

is this unethical lack of transparency more a problem than with law schools. Each
year, about 40,000 new law school graduates start looking for work. But while it
is rare that a graduate of a medical school cannot find work in the medical
field, it is not at all rare for a law school graduate–even from a top-tier
institution–to fail to find a job in the legal profession.

has caused a large number of disgruntled law school grads to pressure the
American Bar Association (ABA) to release the data it has regarding the
employment of law school grads. Indeed, about a dozen grads have even sued the
schools from which they graduated. (Law school graduates suing their law
schools: this gives new meaning to the hoary clich

What Commencement Speakers Might Have Said

Commencement speeches 2012.jpgNow that commencement speakers have finished their work, what messages did they dispense to the class of 2012, graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression? Mostly generic words of anodyne idealism: “Live your dream,” “go change the world”–conventional bromides that graduating classes have heard since college life began. Few speakers gave the new graduates advice that they actually could use in the current dismal job market: don’t hold out for that ideal job–take the best one you can find and get to work; remember, paying work of any kind has much to teach you, about managing your time, getting along with difficult bosses and customers, and learning by observing management how to run a business. But most speakers fell back on clich

A Simple Solution to a Big College Problem–SURs

What is the college graduation rate in this country? Correct answer: nobody knows. All the statistics you’ve read about are at best partial truths. We basically track graduation only for “traditional” students. The problem is that these “traditional” students are no longer representative – most college students are now “non-traditional”: 38 percent of students enroll part time; some full-time students start again after some earlier post-secondary work; and a good many students who transfer to another institution are counted as dropouts. In fact some important news arrived today–one third of all college students transfer before graduating, so our statistics on college completion are even more unreliable than we thought.

The fact that we spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on higher education and can’t determine something as basic as a national graduation rate is a dereliction of duty. The solution to this problem is deceptively simple: turn to Student Unit Records. SURs are straightforward – they are databases that assign each student an individual number so that their educational history can be tracked. With a SUR, the pace of part-time students could be accounted for, and transfer students would no longer vanish, making it possible to calculate an accurate and meaningful graduation rate.

There’s a second advantage from having a SUR: it would allow a better understanding of each college’s and even each program’s performance. For example, while post-college earnings are certainly not the only thing that matters, they are an important consideration for many students. Matching educational records from a SUR with earnings data from the IRS would allow for accurate employment outcomes to be published for each college and program. Such information would help students make better decisions which would in turn help discipline and focus colleges. This can’t be done without a SUR.

There are two main groups opposed to SUR. The first are colleges. In an unusual alliance, both the best and the worst colleges fear SURs. The bad colleges like being able to say things like “Our 9% official graduation rate ignores transfer students and is therefore not an accurate depiction of the quality of our college.” The fact that they oppose a SUR system which would allow for accurate graduation rates to be calculated tells us that they are more interested in maintaining plausible excuses than in actually finding an accurate number. Meanwhile, the best colleges are terrified of being compared to other schools on something like value added earnings. At best, such a comparison would confirm that they are indeed the best. But a comparison might show that they do not deserve to be on top, and they are terrified that some no name college will be shown to be just as good or better. Thus, for top colleges, there is nothing to gain, and potentially everything to lose from such comparisons. While colleges’ opposition to SURs are understandable, there is absolutely no reason for policymakers to indulge them.

The second group opposed to SURs are Republicans concerned about privacy violations. To an extent these were legitimate concerns as any database has potential privacy issues. But recently, convincing methods of safeguarding privacy while implementing a SUR have been developed. Republican Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell has done great work in this area, as has Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and Republican U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter. The Republicans that have opposed SURs to date deserve credit for ensuring that privacy was taken into account, but it is now time to acknowledge that their concerns have been addressed.

America has some great colleges that are the envy of the world. But we also have some terrible colleges that waste student and taxpayer money. A SUR would help us separate the wheat from the chaff.

Competition and Choice Bring Reform, but There’s a Problem

In 1970, less than 10% of Finland’s students graduated from high school. Now most students do, and Finland is one of the highest-scoring countries on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests for l5-year-olds in mathematics, science and reading.

Continue reading Competition and Choice Bring Reform, but There’s a Problem

Our College Graduation Rate Doesn’t Matter

In his January 29 Forum piece, Peter Sacks says that I engaged in “nitpicking” in a blog post expressing disdain for President Obama’s higher education agenda. He’s free to call my skeptical view about federal initiatives to lower the costs of college whatever he wants. But in my opinion, it is naive to believe politicians (not just Obama) when they claim that they are going to make any good or service less costly. That’s just glittering rhetoric. Mr. Sacks does raise some important issues in his piece, however and I’d like to address them. First, he reiterates the position he took in our Jan. 11 debate, contending that the fact that the U.S. has been “slipping” compared with other countries in college graduation percentages is worrisome. He avers that the nation is losing “billions of dollars in potential economic returns” because lots of young Americans don’t graduate from college. In our debate, I took aim at that notion by citing Professor Alison Wolf’s excellent book Does Education Matter?. In my opening statement, I noted that her book has been ignored by the higher education establishment because her conclusions are uncongenial to the conventional wisdom that the more formal education people have, the better. Her strongly-supported argument is that government “investments” in higher education are neither necessary nor sufficient for a vibrant economy. I encourage Minding the Campus readers to digest Wolf’s book (subtitled Myths about Education and Economic Growth) before they assent to the proposition that we are losing productivity because we don’t have a higher college graduation rate. If you don’t have time for Professor Wolf’s book, however, I’ll explain briefly why our college graduation rate doesn’t matter. The reason is that little of what people need to know for their work careers comes from classroom studies. We have a lot of very successful people in America who didn’t graduate from college. We also have a much larger number of people who have college degrees (sometimes advanced degrees) who nevertheless struggle in low-paying jobs. We know that many who go through college don’t learn much and even if they do, they are apt to discover that the best employment they can find is work that high school students could do. There is no transmission mechanism that causes employers to create more high-paying jobs just because we “produce” more college graduates. I agree with Sacks’ that we need to “reframe the nation’s strategic position,” but disagree on how to go about that. The best strategy for the United States is a great depoliticization. What I mean by that is to lessen or entirely remove politics from a wide range of endeavors – housing, medical care, the allocation of capital, energy, and last but not least, education. Political decision-making tends to be short-sighted and swayed by special interest groups. Policies with concentrated but visible benefits often are enacted even though they create far greater (but often unseen) costs. Limited resources are squandered on projects that people wouldn’t spend their own money on. America’s “competitive advantage” has never been that we put more people through college than other countries. It was that we had less government control over people’s lives and property than other countries.

Let’s Be Serious About Higher-Ed

The naysayers started their nitpicking the day after
President Obama, in his State of the Union Speech, presented his plan to
kick-start America’s sputtering system of higher education.  George
Leef of the Pope Center said “Obama’s talk about getting tough with
colleges over tuition is pure political blather.”  Hans Bader and others offer
another off-center objection: we don’t need a higher education policy.
Rather, we must reduce bloat!  There is too much frivolous spending on
higher education’s darling programs, such as campus diversity
offices.  There is merit to closely examining the spending side of higher
education institutions.  No doubt many programs do not find the real
target.  But one can shut all the campus diversity offices at every
American college and university, and doing so would do nothing to raise
college completion rates.  In fact, targeting diversity offices for
elimination could well compound the completion problem because many of
the beneficiaries of those programs are the very sort of students who
need to feel more welcome on college campuses, long dominated by
relatively well-off white students, white administrators, and white

Continue reading Let’s Be Serious About Higher-Ed

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

After Graduation, Get a Job Immediately, or Else

One of the frequent complaints one hears from humanities professors and figures in the “softer” social sciences is that students and a growing number of higher education officials, consultants, and commentators regard college more and more as a job-training program.  While driving across the country this week, I heard Rush Limbaugh declare that the only point of going to college was to find a job—nothing about general knowledge and skills that go with citizenship and being an adult of taste and discernment and historical understanding.

The economic crisis makes their workforce-readiness arguments even stronger, and this story in The Fiscal Times adds an aggravating component to it.  It bears the headline “The Lost Grads: Born into the Wrong Job Market,” and it focuses on graduating classes of '08-'10 who left school only to find that employers weren’t hiring.  The result, according to the Economic Policy Institute: college grads under 25 have an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, while older grads have a rate of 4.4 percent.

Continue reading After Graduation, Get a Job Immediately, or Else

Cognitive Dissonance and Historically Black Colleges

grads.bmpShould all-black colleges exist in 2010? No, some say. After all, it’s been almost fifty years since segregation was outlawed in America. And most Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are of also-ran status, doing their best, but hardly the bastions of excellence that so many were in the old days. Graduation rates are low and not one of them made the top half of Forbes’ ranking of more than 600 schools nationwide. Of the “black Ivies”– Morehouse, Spelman and Howard– only Spelman made US News and World Report’s top 100 list of Liberal Arts colleges in 2010. Graduates of HBCUs don’t make as much money, on average, as their equivalents who went to mainstream schools.
To many, all of this means it’s time to just shut these schools down. That argument, if based solely on the facts above, is ultimately an ill-considered reaction, unlikely, I suspect, from anyone who has ever spent time at one of the schools.
Yet it is hardly wrong to start conceiving of HBCUs as time-limited. I don’t find that easy to write as a black person – but I do find it true. I presume all agree that HBCUs were necessary in the days of legalized segregation, and that they produced legions of top-rate black thinkers and professionals. The question is what their value is today.

Continue reading Cognitive Dissonance and Historically Black Colleges

Big Gaps In Two Big Gap Studies

Last week both the Chronicle of Higher Education (“Reports Highlight Disparities in Graduation Rates Among White and Minority Students”) and Inside Higher Ed (“‘Gaps Are Not Inevitable'”) reported on two large studies by The Education Trust of the graduation rate gap between white and African-American students and betweenwhites and Hispanics. Even aside from the fact that the Asian gap was apparently not studied, there is a Big Gap in both gap studies.
Noting in its press release that “60 percent of whites but only 49 percent of Latinos and 40 percent of African Americans who start college hold bachelor’s degrees six years later,” The Education Trust said their studies “dig beneath national college-graduation averages and examine disaggregated six-year graduation rates at hundreds of the nation’s public and private institutions.” That deep digging produced evidence — hold your hat!—that minorities do better at some institutions than others.

We identify public and private four-year institutions that appear to serve their black and white students equally well—that is, where both groups graduate at similar rates. We also identify public and private institutions that have a lot of work to do to catch up: Their graduation rate gaps are among the largest in the country.

Continue reading Big Gaps In Two Big Gap Studies

On Pigeons, Pells and Student Incentives


Jackson Toby, professor emeritus of sociology at Rutgers and author of the new book, The Lowering of Higher Education in America, delivered this speech yesterday (April 7) at a luncheon in New York City. The luncheon, at the University Club, was sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University and Minding the Campus.

“Is College Graduation Enough for a Good Job or Do College Graduates Have to Know Something?” That’s the title of one chapter of my new book. And in an effort to illustrate the problems of evaluating what contemporary college graduates know, I began the chapter with the lyrics of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Cole Porter’s 1948 hit musical Kiss Me Kate.
Broadway audiences didn’t necessarily have to know that the musical was based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but it helped. Porter graduated from Yale nearly a century ago. In that era a Yale graduate—or a graduate of any American university—had to have had some exposure to the plays of Shakespeare, because it was an era during which a college education referred to a corpus of common intellectual experiences. Colleges usually had a core curriculum that all graduates had to take, whatever their major or their interests. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” contained references to Homer, English poets, the Greek playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides, a mention of the “Bard of Stratford-on-Avon,” the town where Shakespeare was born, and puns involving titles to several of Shakespeare’s plays: Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, Much Ado about Nothing, Coriolanus, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Members of the audience who did not know at least the titles couldn’t understand fully Porter’s witticisms. Consider a few lines from the lyrics:

Continue reading On Pigeons, Pells and Student Incentives

Do We Need More College Graduates?

A February 26 debate on the subject is online here. The event was sponsored by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Former secretary of education Margaret Spellings and Michael Lomax, president and C.E.O. of the United Negro College Fund, are on the pro side of the topic, “To remain a world-class economic power, the U.S. workforce needs more college graduates.” On the anti side are Richard Vedder, economics professor at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and George Leef of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. The moderator is PBS correspondent Paul Solomon.

People Who Never Got a College Degree

Edward Albee, Woody Allen, Maya Angelou, Wally Amos, Jane Austen, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Joan Baez, Warren Beatty, David Ben-Gurion, Sonny Bono, Rick Bragg, Richard Branson, Albert Brooks, David Byrne, James Cameron, Raymond Chandler, Coco Chanel, John Cheever, Sean Connery, Walter Cronkite, Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Dell, Princess Diana, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood, Thomas Edison, Harvey Weinstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Fonda, Benjamin Franklin, David Geffen, John Glenn, Richard Grasso, Ernest Hemingway, Dustin Hoffman, Ralph Lauren, Alex Haley, Peter Jennings, Doris Lessing, Rush Limbaugh, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Lindbergh, Madonna, Malcolm X, Steve Martin, H.L. Mencken, S.I. Newhouse, Jack Nicholson, Neil Simon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bob Pittman, Edgar Allan Poe, Wolfgang Puck, Robert Redford, John D. Rockefeller, J.D. Salinger, Margaret Sanger, Dawn Steel, Barbra Streisand, William Howard Taft, Nina Totenberg, Harry S Truman, Ted Turner, Mark Twain, Governor Jesse Ventura, Thomas J. Watson, Walt Whitman, August Wilson, Anna Wintour, Frank Lloyd Wright, Wilbur and Orville Wright.
—from The Faster Times

Black Success, Black Failure

Confirming what college administrators have known for years, Education Sector has released a report based on U.S. Department of Education figures detailing huge gaps between the college graduation rates of white students and those of blacks. The gap (measured by failure to graduate within six years from a four-year institution) averages about 20 percent, although it can soar in excess of 40 percent in a few cases.

These are dispiriting figures, but they need to be approached in context. First of all, as the report notes, only slightly over half – 57 percent – of students of any race who enroll in four-year colleges manage to make it to graduation within six years. This figure suggest that a traditional-style uninterrupted college education isn’t for everyone – and in fact many dropouts (although their numbers aren’t tracked in the Education Sector report) finish their degrees part-time or after several years in the work-force, as the burgeoning number of institutions devoted to part-time education indicates). White students do fare better in traditional education, according to a study published last year in the journal Blacks in Higher Education: 63 percent of whites graduate in six years, compared to only 43 percent of blacks (although the percentage of graduating black students has been ticking upwards over the past few years, the study noted).

Blacks who attend elite private universities – Harvard et al., – have extremely high graduation rates that approach those of whites, but that is probably to be expected, because those schools have highly selective admissions standards for all their students and typically graduate more than 90 percent of them. And it is safe to say that the blacks at the top private schools are strongly motivated academically and have few distracting financial worries thanks to scholarships or their upper-middle-class families.

Continue reading Black Success, Black Failure

Closing The Graduation Race Gap The Right Way

There is a substantial academic performance gap between black and white high school graduates. Most who study education readily acknowledge this fact. Institutions of higher education are presumed to be places where students come to the campus reasonably prepared to compete with others who are similarly prepared. For decades, colleges and universities have sought to close the black/white academic achievement gap largely by ignoring it and using race preferences to paper over it.

Now, along comes a report, “Graduation Rate Watch: Making Minority Student Success a Priority,” which comes to the startling conclusion that if institutions of higher education expend enough resources on remedial education and “outreach” for those students who come to the university less prepared than necessary, the academic achievement gap can be significantly closed by the time a sufficient number of “minority” students reach the point of graduation. Duh!!!

The abovementioned report also seeks to make a backdoor case for race preferences: “Ward Connerly and other prominent critics of affirmative action have frequently cited low graduation rates of minority students as evidence that some are being admitted to institutions where they may not succeed – and they have argued that these students would benefit from attending institutions where their academic preparation is aligned with student expectations.” The author of the report “strongly disputes” the anti-preference argument.

Far from effectively refuting the argument that race preferences often contribute to low graduation rates for the beneficiaries of such preferences, because such students are mismatched at institutions for which they are inadequately prepared, the report simply identifies a path for closing the gap.

I am an enormous advocate of university-sponsored academic outreach programs to assist in preparing and retaining students once they are enrolled. I strongly supported the expansion of such programs while I served as a Regent of the University of California. However, university-sponsored outreach is not an effective substitute for radically improving preparation at the K-12 level. In addition, extreme care must be exercised to avoid the appearance that academic preparation is the responsibility and the priority of higher education. Shifting this responsibility from K-12 to the university helps a small number of minority students, but contributes little to the overwhelming need for massive reform of the K-12 system itself.