Like Maria, I read with interest the article in yesterday’s New York Times about low graduation rates at certain public universities. I look forward to reading the full Bowen/McPherson/Chingos book, because the Times article raised more question than it answered.
The tone of the article was that institutions could be doing much more to increase their graduations rates, but that they had a financial incentive not to. Maybe I’m a sucker in believing in institutional and individual good intentions, but this seems awfully simplistic to me.
A few things hit me right off the bat. First is the additional burden that many of the students at low cost public institutions face. The article notes that many of these students live at home, and I’ll bet they’re working long hours, not only to cover their own educational expenses, but to contribute to their family finances as well. They might have additional family pressures, like caring for younger siblings or their own children, or helping parents and grandparents deal with medical and other concerns. This is not to suggest that students at the most selective schools do not carry worries and obligations from home, but on a residential campus, they are at least a step removed.
I have heard it said at Swarthmore that every student is precious. There are tutors, academic mentors, writing helpers, and organized study sessions to give everyone a chance to improve their academic skills. If anyone reports a worry about a student, a dean will reach out to them. Even a passing, but low, GPA may trigger a contact. While it is possible to slip through the cracks, the institutional value is that no one should and the goal is that no one will. I suppose this is one more advantage of going to a college with enough resources to make this kind of support possible.
But it seems that resources are not the only factor. There was a story last week on NPR on Millersville University’s all-out effort to retain its students. Millersville, part of the Pennsylvania state university system, realizes that creating ties between the student and the university, starting with small Freshmen seminars during orientation, will increase the likelihood of a student staying on. It seems that Millersville has adopted the “every student is precious” philosphy, trying to find ways to help students feel known, cared about and connected, and it seems to be paying off.