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The Washington Monthly has the scoop:


The Washington Monthly and Education Sector, an independent think tank, looked at the 15 percent of colleges and universities with the worst graduation records--about 200 schools in all--and found that the graduation rate at these schools is 26 percent.

These are not the for-profit schools that have gotten such bad publicity recently. These are ordinary private and public universities and colleges.

The authors conclude:


On the surface, a peaceful university campus can seem like a vital asset to the community. But a university with an 87 percent dropout rate is a service to no one. And chronically dysfunctional organizations can be very difficult to change. There is no reason that states can't quickly build newer, better, more cost-effective public universities to educate people who are currently stuck in college dropout factories. No university, regardless of historical legacies or sunk cost, is worth the price being exacted from thousands of students who leave in despair. The sooner we acknowledge that, the better off those students--and the rest of us--will be. [italics added]

When the authors say that there is no reason that states cannot shut down ineffective colleges and build new ones, they show a fundamental misunderstanding. Government has many, many reasons to keep failing, unsustainable operations in place. One major advantage of markets is that they tend to punish failure.

Having said that, I would not want people to go overboard in using the graduation rate as the key indicator of college quality. There are ways of manipulating that number that would not be socially beneficial, such as lowering performance standards for students. Another technique would be for scollege to reject the students that appear to be least likely to graduate. Perhaps that would be a good thing, all in all, but it might not be the outcome that the social engineering types have in mind.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
frankcross writes:

I don't see how this is such a bad thing. The vast majority of entrepreneurial ventures fail, but that is not considered an argument for not trying to start a new venture. I'm a little more skeptical of especially high graduation rates and whether the associated schools have tough enough requirements.

Hyena writes:

The authors specifically propose simply adding graduation rates as an accreditation factor, they are also fully aware that there are ways of manipulating those numbers and say as much.

In any case, the major difference between markets and government is that organizations on the market tend to disappear naturally. The market doesn't "punish" anything, the firm simply ceases to have the cash-flow necessary to remain open.

I'm so tired of the rhetoric of retribution in libertarian circles.

Steve Sailer writes:

"There is no reason that states can't quickly build newer, better, more cost-effective public universities to educate people who are currently stuck in college dropout factories."

Huh? Are these colleges' buildings infected with Legionnaire's Disease or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? How, exactly, will putting up new college building buildings improve graduation rates.

I'm sure that $578,000,000 new public school in LA will have 100% graduation rates.

Brian writes:

I think the article can be summed up "Today, three-quarters of high school graduates go after a college degree...". Call me crazy and insensitive, but it seems to me that our problem is a national consensus that its is good policy to subsidy the education of millions of students who are likely to benefit very little in terms of knowledge or social mobility.

CBBB writes:

When even automobile rental agencies such as Enterprise Rent-a-Car require all new hires to have university degrees I think a big part of the problem lies in delusional corporate HR offices. Many people who enroll at universities don't want to be there, but companies have an obsession with hiring nothing short of a BA.

rpl writes:
In any case, the major difference between markets and government is that organizations on the market tend to disappear naturally. The market doesn't "punish" anything, the firm simply ceases to have the cash-flow necessary to remain open.
Glad to see you back, EconBot2000. We humans sometimes use a figure of speech called "a metaphor". Sorry for any confusion it may have caused. Here's some more info to get you up to speed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphor
Dean Lindsay writes:

We have on daughter in "for profit" university and one headed to a different one next year (we hope). Graduation rates must be taken into account when considering this issue. Thanks for the insight.

REE writes:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did a nice study recently showing pretty well why students fail to finish. The most significant factor was financial pressures. I don't believe the answer lay in government schemes either, but rather helping parents with college bound students to be able to set aside funds. Once it is possible to attend, the student(consumer) needs to know that the investment of their time and money will yield an adequate return. Studies show a degree is worth the investment, but these young adults are not used to spending at this level.

http://www.publicagenda.org/theirwholelivesaheadofthem

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/postsecondaryeducation/Pages/default.aspx

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/learning/Documents/diplomas-dropouts-report.pdf

The private college I work for is in the mid 60% range for graduation rate within 6 years, and we would still like to see that at least 15% points higher (without resorting to cranking up selectivity).

There is plenty to do in helping to streamline or simplify the process as well, whether that be in choosing classes, majors, financial aid, or aiding in social integration.

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