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And the percentages of funds coming from students and the state have virtually reversed, with nearly two-thirds coming from tuition, only a third from the state of Florida.
Yet our governor stood in front of us recently and said with all sincerity that he didn’t understand why our colleges wanted to raise tuition on the poor working families of Florida.) And these long-term funding challenges are exacerbated by the fact that we are competing for state revenue with voracious entitlement programs consuming an extraordinary share of total state revenues that won’t recover to 2007 levels until sometime in 2015 or 2016, if then.
At the press conference that resulted, he strode to the microphone and announced that the graduation rate quoted on the billboard was categorically incorrect – the actual graduation rate was 3.9 percent. My friend went on to provide some context for these results and address the ways the college was moving to improve them. And how their education’s value in the marketplace justifies both this debt and the state’s investment in their education?
What lessons can we draw from this story for the future of our work, especially as it touches on the remarkable attention now being focused on how our students complete what they have started: Who earns a degree or other credential? The “completion agenda” represents just one set of questions that have defined national and state policy discussions in higher education recently. How do we rank in percentage of adults with a college education? And why don’t governors think more highly of psychology majors?
This is, in fact, the way Richard himself attended college, and doubtless many others.
Is there any good reason to exclude part-time students from the measures? Should non-degree-seeking students be in the measure? How are the measures, inevitably used to compare institutions with very different missions, calibrated to those missions?Consider a student who comes to a community college, enrolls full-time, and after a year of successful study is encouraged to transfer to another college.This student is considered a noncompleter at the community college and isn’t considered in the measure of the receiving institution at all.For this reason, they will have to be much more granular.What’s the point of telling a college-ready student that the total completion rate at a college is 30 percent, when it is actually 60 percent for students like her?Current practice identifies first-time, full-time students as they enter the higher education system and tracks them through a single institution for s specified period of time.We can all name the many deficiencies in the measure.The harsh criticism came from a place of deep affection for higher education, from our friends and supporters, and is therefore even harder to dismiss or ignore.As I looked deeper into the story, I discovered a few important themes for our ongoing work, principles that can inform our work toward improving our results and help us to move the needle on student completion. Be careful what and how you are measuring -- it is sure to be misused.Note that the big Texas “howdy” from the business leadership of the state was about completions – or rather the lack of them. As the feds measure our work (something that has never been done well, for which we share in the blame), even the most selective colleges complete barely three in four of their students; state universities closer to one in two, and community colleges, one in three. And given that the national goal of increasing the percentage of working Americans with a degree depends very heavily on enrolling and graduating many more nontraditional students, we might draw special attention to the challenges of the community colleges, where more than half of all college students begin their educations, and where 80 percent of the underrepresented, the poor, and the first-generation students are served.If they are to be enfranchised at all (and we need them to be, since, as was once said, demographics is destiny), we need them to experience pathways to deep learning, progression, graduation, and further education.