The College Puzzle Blog
Prior PostingsAbout
Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

Most Recent Blog
::1st Entry: The Puzzle of College Success>


My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

Slow Growth in College Completion and College Success

We are puzzled by the slow growth in college completion despite burgeoning college enrollment in the past 20 years. The National Center for Higher education and Public Policy{measuring} documents the number of students is growing much faster than the percentage of students ages 25-34 who have a college degree.

The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance (ACSFA), a nonpartisan panel that advises Congress, recently concluded that in the 1990s between 800,000 and 1.6 million low and moderate high school students failed to earn a bachelors degree, in spite of being academically prepared for college and intent on attending a four-year college. (ACSFA, Mortgaging Our Future. Washington, D.C : US Department of Education, 2006.

In our book, From High School to College, Andrea Venezia and I speculated about how college non-completion was caused by different factors, such as college preparedness, cost, time management, personal commitment and more. We know that a significant percentage of non-completion is caused by a lack of college preparation. Yet, the ACSFA study tried to include only students who were well-prepared. All of the students in its study completed algebra II or trigonometry. These mathematics courses are crucial predictors of college completion in studies by Clifford Adelman, formerly with the U.S. Department of Education. Moreover, all the students in 10th and 12th grade planned to get a bachelor’s degree. (Michael Kirst and Andrea Venezia. eds. From High school to College. Jossey Bass, San Francisco, 2004.)

Although students fail to move through the higher education system for many reasons, the ACFSA study included only students for whom finances were the deciding factor in not getting a four-year degree. Thus, while I am not certain that the ACFSA study adequately controlled for all factors that hinder success in college, inadequate finance is clearly a major factor or impediment to graduation.

Now we need a study that examines how many students do not get degrees because of inadequate academic preparation. This also will be hard to measure precisely because student commitment to study and student perseverance are also important factors in college completion.

Subsequent blog entries will discuss commitment and other factors that comprise the puzzle of college completion. Also, please visit us at MyCollegePuzzle.


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