The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Failure Factories"

One hundred and forty public universities graduate NO African-American students within six years of enrollment. There are 150 from which no Hispanic or Asian student graduates within six years. Only 33 percent of freshmen who enroll in the University of Massachusetts graduate in six years. These are some of the shocking figures from "The Costs of Failure Factories in American Higher Education" by economist Mark Schneider of the American Enterprise Institute.

A new book, Crossing the Finish Line, by economists William Bowen and Michael McPherson, reviewed in the New York Times, tries to analyze the reasons for this abyssmal failure and argues that universities should be made accountable.

The authors think that a large part of the problem is what they call "undermatching" - of student to institution.

"About half of low-income students with a high school grade-point average of at least 3.5 and an SAT score of at least 1,200 do not attend the best college they could have. Many don’t even apply. Some apply but don’t enroll. “I was really astonished by the degree to which presumptively well-qualified students from poor families under-matched,” Mr. Bowen told me.""

The operative word there is "presumptively." Are these students truly "well-qualified" for college? Grade inflation, non-objective grading, inconsistent grading from one school to another, changes in the SAT standards, affirmative action: these all make it hard to know. Maybe many students are caught in a web of educational lies: that they've learned enough to function at a college level, that they have the self-organizational skills to do college work, and that they have the practical knowledge to function on their own.

Of course, the issue of accountability would be moot except that students use federal money to stay enrolled so long.

Millions of federal loan dollars. If students had to come up with their own hard-earned money in real time, not take-forever-to-pay-back student loan time, would they linger in school so long? I doubt it.

Universities make big bucks enrolling huge freshmen lecture classes. No matter if they graduate, the universities still get paid through the feds. If students were paying with money they valued, I doubt that universities could get away with this. X-box would never stay in business if it functioned this way.

Hat tip to Don Hauptman.

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