College Dropouts Linked to Preparedness More Than Effort

There is no one simple answer to the question: Why do students drop out of college? But a new study from the University of Western Ontario tries to shed new light.

The study, “Learning About Academic Ability and the College Drop-Out Decision,” found that 40 percent of low-income U.S. college students who left a four-year college program did so because of poor academic performance, despite the students’ feeling they were prepared.

The researchers, Todd Stinebrickner, an economics professor at the University of Western Ontario, and his father, Ralph Stinebrickner, a professor emeritus at Berea College in Kentucky, found many university students were overly optimistic about their likely performance their first semester. After being disappointed with low grades, nearly half dropped out. It was not a matter of trying hard enough, but likely the institution was not a good match for them academically, the long-term panel study of students from low-income families found.

The authors suggest new policies be put in place that target individuals at much younger ages to better prepare them for a high-quality postsecondary education, especially for those who choose to study math or science (My emphasis). They caution that the study findings cast doubt on policies aimed at encouraging more incoming university students to major in math and science, and efforts should shift from recruitment to better preparation of high school students in these subjects.

via Education Week.

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Reverse-Transfer Programs Reward Students and Colleges Alike

The following is commentary provided by Donna Ekal, an associate provost for undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Paula M. Krebs,  ACE Fellow at the University of Massachusetts President’s Office and a professor of English at Wheaton College via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Community-college officials must have a special love-hate relationship with the motivated, successful students who leave their institutions with a good number of credits, but no degree, to transfer to four-year institutions. Such students should be counted as institutional successes rather than failures, but until recently, little could be done to officially record them as such.

Data on graduation rates, as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, count only first-time, full-time students who finish a degree at the institution at which they began in one and a half times the duration it would normally take to complete the degree (that is, three years for a two-year associate degree, and six years for a four-year bachelor’s). So a student who transfers from a community college to a four-year institution and completes a bachelor’s degree counts as a failure, in graduation-rate terms, for both the community college and the four-year institution. Until the government changes its data gathering to account in a positive way for such transfer students, thousands of students who complete their college degrees will continue unrecorded in government reporting. Furthermore, many such students will overlook the full value of the community-college experience that started them on their degree paths.

Help is coming from an unexpected quarter, however: the four-year institutions to which such students transfer. Our institutions, the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Massachusetts at Boston, along with others across the country, have established systems to ensure that transfer students with significant credits from two-year colleges are awarded associate degrees once they have completed the necessary coursework at their new institutions.

Read more.

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Education is Not the Cure for High Unemployment or For Income Inequality

This is an excerpt from a briefing by the Economic Policy Institute. For more information or to download the pdf please see the bottom of the article.

With signs pointing to persistent high unemployment and a recovery even weaker than those of the early 1990s and 2000s, it is becoming common to hear in the media and among some policy makers the claim that lingering unemployment is not cyclical but “structural.” In this story, the jobs problem is not a lack of demand for workers but rather a mismatch between workers’ skills and employers’ needs. Another version of the skills mismatch is also being told about the future: we face an impending skills shortage, particularly a shortfall of college graduates, after the economy returns to full employment.

The common aspect of each of these claims about structural problems is that education is the solution, the only solution. In other words, delivering the appropriate education and training to workers becomes the primary if not sole policy challenge if we hope to restore full employment in the short and medium term and if we expect to prevent a (further) loss of competitiveness and a further rise in wage and income inequality in the longer term. There are ample reasons to be skeptical of both claims:

  • The number of job openings in the current recession has been far too few to accommodate those looking for work, and the shortfall in job openings is pervasive across sectors, not just the hard-hit construction industry, which tends to be the focus of skillsmismatch claims.
  • There is no one education group—particularly not the least educated, as the structural argument would suggest–fueling the rise of long-term unemployment in this recession. If there has been some transformation of the workplace leaving millions of workers inadequate for the currently available jobs, then it was not based on a major educational upscaling of jobs.
  • The challenges the nation faces as high unemployment persists is not better education and training for those currently unemployed. The problem is a lack of jobs.
  • The huge increase in wage and income inequality experienced over the last 30 years is not a reflection of a shortfall in the skills and education of the workforce. Rather, workers face a wage-deficit, not a skills deficit. It is hard to find some ever-increasing need for college graduates that is going unmet: college graduates have not seen their real wage rise in 10 years, and the pay gap with high school graduates has not increased in that time period. Moreover, even before the recession college students and graduates were working as free interns, a phenomenon we would not observe if college graduates were in such demand.

Read more or download the pdf.

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