Report: Completion rates woefully low at public colleges

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Indiana and most other states are enrolling large numbers of students in college who never graduate, presenting a huge hurdle in nationwide efforts to raise the education level of the work force, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report uses data from 33 states compiled by Complete College America, a not-for-profit based in Washington, D.C., headed by Indiana’s former commissioner of higher education, Stan Jones. The study marks the first broad accounting of the success of part-time and transfer students, because federal data does not track them.

Of every 100 Hoosiers who enter two-year or four-year public colleges in Indiana, only 39 graduate, even when given four years to complete a two-year degree and eight years to complete a four-year degree.

The struggles are especially acute among students who attend school part-time or if they are black or from low-income families.

Part-timers represent 30 of every 100 college students in Indiana, but 90 percent of them fail to graduate, even when given twice the expected time to do so, the report says. About half of full-time students graduate in the same time frame.

“Increasingly in this country and in our state, the level of education is dividing between the haves and the have nots,” said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s commissioner of higher education. “You have to be concerned about this.”

More states report graduation rates for students given three years to complete a two-year degree and six years to complete a four-year degree, and those numbers are even starker. In Indiana, only 33 percent of students graduate in that time frame, compared with 38 percent nationwide, Lubbers said.

Among African-Americans attending Indiana colleges full-time, only 6 percent—or one out of 17 students—completes a two-year degree in three years. Among all Hoosier students, nearly 20 percent graduate within three years.

The numbers are better among black students seeking four-year bachelor’s degrees and attending full-time. Thirty-five percent, or one in three, graduate in six years. But among all students, 56 percent graduate within six years.

Among low-income students in Indiana—those who received a federal Pell grant—only one in 11 earn a two-year degree in three years. Only four of 10 earn a bachelor’s degree in six years.

Factors that often hamper minority and low-income students include poorer academic preparation at the high school level, the need to work while also attending school or lack of guidance from family members, who never went to college themselves.

“We have a lot of first-generation families [in college] because we have an economy where a college degree was not needed for a middle-class life,” Lubbers said. “As we transition to a place where education is more important, you’re going to have a lot of students who will be the first generation because their parents didn’t have to have a college degree.”

Complete College America said its data on part-timers is particularly needed because the federal government requires colleges and universities to report completion rates only for its first-time, full-time students. But four of 10 college students today do not fit that description, according to Complete College America.

“All students now count and are being counted,” Complete College America wrote in its report on the new data. “We now have a much more complete picture of where we stand and what needs to be done so that all students have a fair shot at success.”

Complete College America, formed in 2009, is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education.

Lumina and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education have for years been highlighting Indiana’s need to boost its college completion rates. In response, the  Legislature has in recent years started funding Indiana’s public colleges in part based on their success at graduating students.



  • Look Closer
    As an adult who has had a very successful 20+ year career in a field that is vanishing I decided to be proactive about stepping into another field by taking pre-reqs at Ivy Tech for a nursing career. I took 5 semesters of math/algebra classes to get up to speed in math (A's in all). I found, without fail, that Ivy Tech routinely places students in these classes who drop after one or two class meetings because they are unprepared for the curriculum, even in advanced classes. The last class I was in started with 27 students and finished with 8. This was not at all unusual. I wondered why this happened until I found out that Ivy Tech gets their Federal or State funding based on the number of students in a classroom seat on the first day of class. I don't think the public has any idea this is happened and it merits a closer look or perhaps a squeakier wheel. Getting students into college isn't a problem as your article points out, getting them to finish is. Since I only took math classes at Ivy Tech I don't know if this same scenario exists in other classes at the school as well. . .but I suspect it does.
  • Qualified Californians denied admission to University of California
    Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) of University of California Berkeley displaces qualified for public university education at Cal. Californians for $50,600 payment by FOREIGN students.

    The University of California Berkeley, ranked # 70 Forbes, is not increasing enrollment. $50,600 tuition FOREIGN students are accepted by Birgeneau at the expense of qualified instate students.

    UC Regent Chairwoman Lansing and President Yudof agree discriminating against instate Californians for admission to UC Berkeley. Birgeneau, Yudof, Lansing need to answer to Californians.

    Your opinion makes a difference; email UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu
  • Not Ready for College
    JoeP, even at age 18 it's not impossible to catch up on skills needed for college. For instance, IUPUI offers a remedial algebra class. A lot of 18 year olds are just not mature enough to appreciate a college education, hence they don't learn much and often don't finish the work. How much better it would be if high school students would take time before college to grow up, maybe serve in the military or in a national service organization for a year or two before entering college. Indiana, we seem to do a bad job of growing up.
    I have noted that it is difficult to impossible to complete the cirriculum for many degree programs in 4 years as the required classes are not offered/available!
  • Moneys not always an excuse
    Two year degrees are NOT that expensive as some state schools, i.e. Ivy Tech. The problem there falls into them not offering classes TO finish a degree in a timely manner. Sure, general ed stuff is easy to find, but core classes can be offered ONCE a year. And I've had one of those core classes cancelled, and not offered til the following year. I wonder WHY so many dropout with this type of thing going on... But, shhhh, college is a cash cow, and this is just the dirty little secret you don't find out until too late.
  • unprepared
    Typically the students that fail in college come completely unprepared. They are lacking basic writing and math skills. At that point, it is too late to correct it.
  • Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Loser Attitude...
    There is a demonstrable link between disposable income and education success, and between family education level(s) and education success, sure -- but what no one will have the guts to say in this "PC" age is that *attitude* is the key to education success. And those who stroll in the door with the "Gimme Mine" attitude will take the free money and fail. I see it every day.

    There are bright, hard-working, motivated students out there, of every age and color and from the poorest of backgrounds, but they are overshadowed by those with loser attitudes and chips on their shoulders that reek with "I am The Entitled One"... We need everyone to realize that being *admitted* to college DOES NOT carry any sort of implicit Eventual Graduation Guarantee with it. Don't do the work? YOU WILL BE BOOTED. And asking the Legislature to blame the institution (or the faculty) is irresponsible.
  • On "Properly" Using Verbs

    Not according to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), which says:

    Thesaurus »
    Categories »

    a. intr. To take a university degree. Also (U.S.), to complete a high school course and receive a diploma.
    1807 R. Southey Lett. from Eng. II. 76 Four years are then to be passed at college before the student can graduate.
    1808 Monthly Mag. Oct. 224/1 He [Mandeville] graduated at Leyden in 1691.
    1839 F. Marryat Diary in Amer. 1st Ser. III. 304, I married her a month after she had graduated.
    1866 W. Odling Lect. Animal Chem. Pref. 6 Among students, especially those about to graduate.
    1882 I. M. Rittenhouse Jrnl. in Maud (1939) 77 The very minute that she found out she was too far behind the class to graduate she stopped school.
    1892 Times 8 Mar. 10/1 In 1837 he graduated from Yale College.
    1935 H. Nicolson Dwight Morrow i. 14 Dwight was‥able to graduate from High School at the premature age of fourteen."

    It is helpful to fact-check ourselves before we correct others.
  • Make it more affordable
    Perhaps if college was more affordable, people could actually stay and complete their degrees. I wonder how many "dropouts" are forced to leave because of financial constraints. So sad....
    • "who never graduate"
      More properly, this should be expressed as "who are never graduated," in that one does not graduate himself; he is graduated by someone else. It's often the entire university faculty that votes upon whether to confer a degree on an individual who has satisfied all degree requirements.
    • List of College Drop Out Factories
      Washington Monthly's 2010 rankings of the 4-year public and private not-for-profit colleges in America with the worst graduation rates


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