The College Puzzle Blog
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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.

The Public Does Not Hold Colleges Responsible for Graduation Woes

There are many obstacles to more aggressive policy to stimulate higher college success and college completion rates. An important policy is the public’s high approval rating for the current performance of postsecondary education, and its satisfaction with the higher education status quo.

Colleges and universities earned a respectable “B” in a 2001 nationwide random sample, while secondary schools were a full grade or more lower (Immerwahr, 1999, http://www.highereducation.org/). The public’s collective advice is that colleges and universities continue to focus on what they do best. Only 12 percent of the public would raise entrance standards to postsecondary education.

While the public believes that college readiness is inferior to a decade ago, only 11 percent hold postsecondary institutions responsible for students’ failure to persist. Half of a national sample thinks that students are to blame, and another 40 percent think that it is a failure of high schools to prepare students for college level study that causes them to drop out. Very few respondents think the presence or absence of K-16 services such as better counseling or higher education working with public schools is a primary cause of students' college success or college failure.

Moreover, a majority of the public thinks students of color have about the same opportunities as white, non-Latino students. This public opinion poll concluded, “there is no mandate for change – or even a suggestion of what kind of [higher education] change would prove necessary.” More recent polls have similar conclusions. It is unlikely that elected officials will feel much public pressure to bring postsecondary education into greater alignment with K-12. A major public information campaign highlighting the lack of college persistence and college completion in broad-access postsecondary education might help shift opinion towards closing the gap between the sectors.

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