Three-quarters of the country's private, non-profit colleges rate a classification of "dropout factory," notes Third Way.  A New York Times Upshot column (via College Insurrection) provides the details.
Colleges that have high graduation rates tend to be more selective and tend to have students who are more affluent and more academically prepared. Colleges with lower graduation rates tend to admit a higher percentage of students with Pell grants, which usually go to lower-income students.

This is why graduation rates are so tricky: The colleges that have the lowest rates are the very same ones that are taking the biggest chances on students. Is it worth it to admit the students on the margins of educational success when you know half of them will drop out?
In case anybody wonders why U.S. News sells those rankings, the answer is in the first sentence of the excerpt.  Dip into the Third Way report, and you see that inter alia Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia offer students of modest means good value for money, if they get in.  For many of the students on the margins of educational success, that's not an option, and there's the intake of Distressed Material for the dropout factories.  There's work to be done, and the Third Way report overlooks one part of the work.
If America’s high schools had the same outcomes as these 1,027 institutions, there would be an outcry. But for college—and in this case four-year colleges taking in high school graduates who have been accepted through an application process designed to weed out students that are a poor fit—it is met with a shrug of the shoulders. And too often, the implication is that it is the student, not the institution, who is at fault.
Do we know that the admissions offices at these colleges are in fact weeding out students who are poor fits?  Or is enrollment, in order to keep the student fee money coming to cover the losses of athletics and the mortgage on the administration buildings more important?

And although there are policies in place by which Washington can intervene (for all the good it does) in underachieving high schools, and there are efforts in a few states to identify the high schools that are turning out the Distressed Material, there is still a lot of work to be done equipping young people with the intellectual and cultural capital to stay on task in university.

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