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.

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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.

Book Says Popular Opinion Re College Persistence is Wrong

I believe Clifford Adelman completed one of the most important studies concerning staying in college . The study is found in The Tool Box Revisited: Plans to Degree Completion from High School to College (Washington, D.C: U.S. Department of Education, 2006).

Adelman found a 66% college completion rate. This is a higher college persistence rate than most prior studies. (One prominent prior study is by Susan Choy, entitled Access and Persistence.) In fact, it easily trumps the common idea that college completion rates are, at best, 50%.

He investigates a number of student risk factors for non-completion. Adelman examined elements of college support, student time management, and predictors of success. He found that academic preparation in mathematics beyond Algebra II is a very strong predictor of success.

I found the most novel part of the study by Adelman was what students can do after they are in college to enhance college success. More on this in the next blog.

While his conclusions regarding predictors of success are noteworthy, his methodology is more critical, in my view. The study by Adelman did not rely on institutional data. In other words, it did not rely on the graduation data provided by the school as school-level data has always failed to properly measure students who transfer, only to successfully graduate elsewhere.

Adelman did it the only way that it can be done properly. He collected performance data at the individual data, by reviewing the college transcripts of individuals through the National Education Longitudinal Study 88/2000 database. His study sampled all college students, EXCEPT for those who attended community college (graduating or not), and NEVER entered a 4-year college. Adelman followed students for eight and one-half years after high school.

Adelman emphasized that much data and reporting on college success mixes up nineteen-year-olds with much older college students (his focus is on the former). He found that 60% of students go to more than one postsecondary institution, and many swirl between several colleges. In sum, many statistics on college dropout rates overstate non-completion because they rely on return rates at a single postsecondary institution.


Copyright 2006 My College Puzzle