8.7.11

THE NON-TRADITIONAL TRAP.  Ohio State's Frank Donoghue questions higher education's attempt to maintain enrollments by recruiting the individuals who chose not to enroll, or were rejected, out of high school.
Fewer high-school graduates mean fewer traditional college students. But the causes of my anxiety are threefold. First, the notion that all Americans are entitled to a college education, regardless of their level of preparation, the degree of their intellectual curiosity, and, most basically, their ability to  afford increasing tuitions, is increasingly unreasonable. It rests on an uncritically accepted assumption, an odd amalgam of American exceptionalism and the delusion that the United States doesn’t have a markedly distinct class system.

Just because there will be fewer traditional-aged college students in the coming years,must we make up the shortfall by populating colleges with adult students? Musteveryone go to college in order for us to compete in the global economy? India and China certainly don’t take that position.

Second, the report calls for adult college students to finish their degrees. Across the board, the U.S. college-graduation rate currently stands at about 50 percent, according to The New York Times. Among other wealthy nations, only Italy has a lower graduation rate. That statistic is appalling enough, but further details are even worse: just 20 percent of first-time students at public community colleges get a degree or certificate within three years.

Non-traditional students, however one defines them (with a partner, with children, with full-time jobs), can, I imagine, only face even tougher odds. So the exhortation that we send more adults to college rings hollow, since it’s so clear that very few of them will actually complete a degree program and therefore put themselves in a position for a good job in the new global economy. And many of those who don’t complete their degrees will find themselves in the worst possible economic crunch—they’ll essentially be high-school graduates with unaffordable amounts of debt racked up while they were in college.

Finally (a hobbyhorse of mine you may have come to see regularly), adult higher education feeds the for-profit machine. I’m hardly against people in the 25 and up age category going to college—it’s admirable, and in some cases even inspiring. The fact is, though, that traditional colleges and universities aren’t set up to deal with an influx of non-traditional students, but for-profit higher-education companies are, and always have been.
The policy problem might not be the for-profits stealing market share from the nonprofits and the state-tolerated institutions. It might be with the channeling of returning adults into traditional degree programs, notes Joanne Jacobs.
For-profit college students pay much more in tuition. If they try and fail, they’re more likely to be stuck with unaffordable debt. And these are high-risk students.

The completion rate for two-year for-profit certificate and degree programs is much higher than the community college graduation rate. If adult students are steered toward realistic goals, success rates will be high. That probably means a certificate in welding skills, not an unattainable bachelor’s degree.
That community college graduation rate is a blend of many things; her statement is not necessarily a criticism of industrial technology programs in community colleges and universities.

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