Kevin Carey looks at the effects of the Wayne State model for higher education.
People may vehemently disagree about how to help minority students in K-12 education, but nearly all agree that the students need help in the first place. Yet in every big city with a headline-making, underperforming school district, there’s a public higher education system receiving not 1/100th of the scrutiny. Detroit, for example, is widely seen to have the worst public school system in America—so bad that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he “lose[s] sleep over” the plight of the city’s 50,000 students. But how many people know that Wayne State, Detroit’s main public university, has an 8 percent—yes, 8 percent—graduation rate for black students? Who’s losing sleep over them?

Detroit is, no surprise, a worst case. But it’s hardly the only city with a pervasive and largely ignored higher education problem. In Duncan’s hometown, 19 percent of black students who enroll full-time at Chicago State University graduate within six years. At California State University, Los Angeles, it’s 22 percent. The University of the District of Columbia matches Wayne State for futility, with an 8 percent graduation rate for black students. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee? 19 percent.
Regular readers will have noticed the Cold Spring Shops solution.
I submit that higher education has broken the social compact with the citizenry, by substituting a misguided inclusiveness and access-assessment-remediation-retention for common standards, in such a way as to antagonize precisely the well-to-do people who in previous years would have sent their kids to the local state university.
That same post concludes with an evaluation of the effects of providing lots of subprime college to disadvantaged kids.
[S]tudents from poorer neighborhoods aren't getting the educational fundamentals or the life-management skills to enroll at the land-grants, let alone to make an impression at the job fair.
It's encouraging to see Mr Carey, who has elsewhere pointed out the folly of focusing extensively on the top of the U.S. News rankings to the exclusion of what most collegians encounter.
America’s higher education system is comprehensively failing to give minority students what they need, and this has little to do with elite college admissions. Including community colleges, fewer than one in ten undergraduates attend colleges with admissions rates below 50 percent. By definition, affirmative action only affects the small percentage of students who are qualified to attend elite schools. Many of the minority students washing out of public universities in droves are the survivors of our infamously substandard K-12 schools, attending local, open-admissions institutions. Their problem isn’t getting into college—it’s getting out with a quality degree in hand and no terrible loans on their backs.
Mr Carey's policy prescription is one that critics of higher education arguing from a different perspective might agree with.
States need to start practicing financial affirmative action by devoting more public resources to colleges that enroll students with the greatest academic needs. Along with the federal government, they should also penalize institutions with terrible graduation rates, student loan repayment rates, and post-graduation employment and earning rates, compared to peers with similar student populations. Those who set the national education agenda need to look past the handful of universities that graduate the ruling class and focus on improving the neglected institutions that educate future minority school teachers, scientists, doctors, and engineers.
Those are the same institutions that provide most of the degrees, and there are probably substantial gains from trade between the legislators and the universities, as both sides restore the social contract that once prevailed.

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