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Who Finishes College?

posted Apr 5, 2017, 7:48 PM by Emily Tai   [ updated May 2, 2017, 5:33 PM by CUNY UFS ]
By Emily Tai 

Only 1 in 3 Americans hold a college degree.  Although 69.2 % of America’s high school graduates enrolled in college in 2015, only 59% completed a baccalaureate degree within six years. (Third Way
 found only slightly higher graduation rates at America’s private institutions.) While younger Americans are more likely to enjoy higher levels of degree attainment, it is, accordingly, still true that nearly half of those students who enroll in college never complete a college degree.

This places the United States at nineteenth among the twenty-eight countries ranked for college degree attainment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) —a real tragedy, given recent research findings about the impact a college degree can have on lifetime earning potential.

Barriers to the B.A.

What are the obstacles to earning a college degree in the United States?  Cost, for one.   OECD data found that “the direct costs of higher education in the United States are among the highest in the world.” Temple University professor Sara Goldrick-Rab’s recent book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream draws upon the author’s research at the Wisconsin HOPE lab has studied the way college students lack adequate support from federal and state college tuition assistance programs, while often struggling with food and housing insecurity.

Then there are America’s funding priorities: in 23 states, spending for correctional facilities significantly outpaced spending for K-12 education, according to a recent report released by the U.S. Department of Education. These spending patterns not only sustain a system of criminal justice that incarcerates over two million Americans (disproportionately Americans of color), but contributes to an educational crisis for children, whose academic progress tends to falter when parents are incarcerated. A 2014 RAND corporation study argued for the benefits of educating the incarcerated. Although programs like the Bard Prison Initiative, Marymount Manhattan College’s program at Bedford Hills, and Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison have made New York a leader in privately-funded programs, states have varied in their willingness to dedicate tax-levy resources to prison education.

Finally, there’s college preparedness itself. Although the number of high school diplomas awarded across the country have risen, less than 40% of high school graduates are prepared for college-level coursework in Math and Reading, according to a recent report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Institute of Education Sciences.

Lowering the Barriers: CUNY Leads the Way

Raj Chetty has shown that CUNY campuses propel almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class as all eight Ivy League campuses combined. Programs like CUNY’s ASAP offer intensive advising and economic support to address financial issues that can throttle the college dreams of even the most talented students.

Faculty across CUNY, and especially at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (led by departing president, Jeremy Travis), have also been national leaders in efforts to provide education and support to incarcerated and reentering students.  CUNY has begun revamping remediation requirements in Mathematics and English that might, in past years, have absorbed significant amounts of student financial aid without moving students closer to graduation.

But could there be a means to help prospective students while they are still in high school?

The Principal is your Pal

David Leonhardt suggested that high school principals can by support good teachers, mentor those who are less effective, and help struggling students stay on track. Although programs already link New York City high school students to CUNY campuses — the most recent being NYC Men Teach -- perhaps CUNY faculty could explore more ways to reach out to High School Principals — and together, find ways, to help more New Yorkers succeed in college, at CUNY.

#CollegeCompletion #CUNYASAP #NYCMenTeach #CollegeCosts

Emily S. Tai is a professor of History at Queensborough Community College who serves on the UFS Executive Committee, and edits the UFS Blog.

The UFS Blog is a forum for CUNY Faculty, and welcomes the expression of all points of view.

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Alethe (Own work), Egg & spoon finish line, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons