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.

New Studies Indicate College Spending Increases Not Related to College Success For Students

Change Magazine issue of November 2008 has an article by Peter T. Ewell that demonstrates there is no relationship between college spending in similar institutions and student performance. The key is how the money is spent If more money is spent on academic support for students- tutors, counselors, faculty development, teaching centers etc. then students in similar colleges do better than their peers. But most of the spending increases in recent years is for functions outside of instruction such as federal research, hospitals,public service , and auxiliary operations says Jane Wellman in another related article in Change. Why are expenditures that do not stress student instruction growing so fast? See for yourself at

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.

Boston Study: 7 out of 10 Graduates Start College, But Few Complete College

>Globe Editorial
>The Boston Globe
>In college, but only marginally
>December 23, 2008
>MUCH SOUL-SEARCHING is taking place on local
>college campuses after a recent study showing
>that college was a bust for almost two-thirds of
>Boston high school graduates in the class of
>2000. Students attending two-year community
>colleges-the least-expensive option-fared the
>worst in the survey by the Center for Labor
>Market Studies at Northeastern University, with
>an abysmal 12 percent graduation rate.
>Specific results for all public and private
>colleges in the study should be available
>shortly after Christmas. But some figures are
>trickling in. Roxbury Community College fell
>flat. Of the 101 students from the high school
>class of 2000 who enrolled in RCC shortly after
>high school, only 6 percent would go on to earn
>a diploma there-or anywhere else-by June 2007.
>Quincy College, a low-profile, two-year college
>on the South Shore, did comparatively well (but
>not good enough) by its 62 Boston students,
>posting a 19 percent graduation rate. Bunker
>Hill Community College, which drew 155 enrollees
>from Boston's class of 2000, yielded a 14 percent graduation rate.
>The study, which was funded by the Boston
>Foundation, strips away some of the hype about
>college attendance rates in Boston. Seven out of
>10 public school graduates may get into college,
>but many lack the preparation to succeed. At
>Bunker Hill, for example, more than 80 percent
>of the Boston students from the class of 2000
>required a remedial math course. Wisely, Bunker
>Hill and Boston school officials are now
>introducing students at some city high schools
>to the placement exams they will face on campus in the coming year.
>The study should put an end to common claims by
>community college officials that their
>graduation rates don't reveal much because many
>of their students transfer to four-year colleges
>before earning associate degrees. In this study,
>a student merely needed to earn a diploma or
>certificate from any institution of higher
>education, not just the original college. And by
>providing at least a six-year window, the study
>made allowances for students who often juggle
>college with work or family obligations.
>Rationalizations are now off the table.
>Bad numbers as motivation
>There will be more than a few red-faced college
>officials when the final statistics are
>released. Only about one-third of students at
>four-year state colleges pulled through.
>Students at four-year, private colleges fared
>best, with a 56 percent graduation rate. Still,
>the study is proving to be a good motivator.
>UMass-Boston, which struggles with graduation
>rates, is expected to take a lead role in
>crafting solutions. And the Boston Private
>Industry Council, a co-author of the study, is
>keeping up the pressure with plans to publish
>graduation data for future Boston public school classes.
>The stakes are highest at the community
>colleges, a traditional choice for students who
>struggled in high school. Mary Fifield, Bunker
>Hill Community College president, has launched a
>program that pairs remedial courses with
>college-level classes for incoming full-time
>students. Students are grouped by ability or
>academic interest and placed with handpicked
>professors who take an interest in their
>academic achievement and social adjustment. The
>college is also planning a "survival skills"
>class for freshmen, focusing on everything from
>reading class schedules to maximizing financial aid.
>At Roxbury Community College, officials say they
>are also launching initiatives with the help of
>a Lumina Foundation grant to provide more
>intensive advising and tutoring, as well as a
>mandatory course on study skills for
>first-semester students. Impending cuts in the
>state budget, however, threaten these offerings.
>Progress on the South Shore
>Self-supporting Quincy College, a public
>community college operated under the auspices of
>the South Shore city, may have a lot to teach in
>tough times. Although the college offers few
>formal retention programs and no on-site day
>care for its roughly 4,000 students, it manages
>to outperform some of its state-operated
>counterparts. College president Sue Harris says
>that student advisers are widely available in the evening.
>The college also offers so-called "nested
>semesters" that allow students to take
>accelerated courses over 10- or even 5-week
>periods in addition to the traditional 15-week
>schedule. The faster pace creates a sense of
>urgency missing on many campuses. Minority
>students, who make up 42 percent of the student
>body, appear to fare especially well at Quincy
>College. Black and Hispanic graduation rates for
>a recent class, says Harris, outstripped that of Asian students.
>No one believes that ill-prepared urban students
>will suddenly cruise through college. But any
>college that can't help at least half to the
>finish line needs to reexamine what value it is
>adding to the educational experience.
>© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

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.

New Report Is Guide To Better College Student Outcomes and Accountability

Education Sector is an independent DC think tank with an outside the box approach. Their new report on higher education accountability is well worth reading for those interested in improving college completion and better student outcomes. Below is the Education Sector press release.

Today's colleges and universities are plagued by
>a host of problems: low graduation rates, high
>tuition rates, and poor student performance. But
>higher education has surprisingly few incentives
>to address these problems and to provide an
>affordable, high-quality education to all
>students. Funding is based on how many students
>enroll, not how many graduate. Prestige is tied
>to how smart students are when they begin as
>freshmen, not how much they learn before they
>leave. As a result, policymakers who want to fix
>the problems of American higher education need
>to create stronger accountability systems.
>Aldeman and Carey describe the current state of the art in
>state higher education accountability and
>provide a set of guidelines for designing a
>model system. The authors examined thousands of
>documents and analyzed Web sites, laws, and
>policies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the
>District of Columbia to make their recommendations.
>States are accumulating more information about
>more things in higher education than ever
>before, say Carey and Aldeman, but no state is
>gathering all the information that is
>potentially available. Yet if each state simply
>used the best metrics available elsewhere, the
>authors argue, it would be able to paint a
>comprehensive, multidimensional picture of how
>well its colleges and universities are succeeding.
>to Assemble: A Model State Higher Education
>Stacey E. Jordan
>Independent Analysis, Innovative Ideas
>1201 Connecticut Ave., NW, Ste. 850, Washington, DC 20036
>[t] 202.552.2849 . [f] 202.775.5877 . [e]

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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.

Achieve Perspectives News Letter Is Valuable Source

In this period of slow news I am featuring useful websites and email newsletters for college preparation and college completion. Last post was Lumina Foundation at This time I reproduce the Achieve Perspectives email news that includes their own initiatives and links to many other reports and books.


Measures that Matter
Measures tha Matter

Meaningful standards-based reform is about more than standards. It's about ensuring that the standards are embedded in curriculum, assessments, data and accountability systems so that all students graduate from high school ready for the real world. That means that many of the "traditional" assumptions and ways of thinking about testing and accountability must change. We need to move past the notion that testing means only large-scale multiple-choice assessments and that accountability is inherently punitive. States want�and need�guidance on how to create a next generation assessment and accountability system that moves past these divisive notions.

In an effort to spur state progress and provide guidance to states in these areas, Achieve and the Education Trust have developed a new series of publications and tools that help define the next generation of standards, assessment and accountability reforms. Our new series, Measures that Matter, is the result of a year-long process of research, tool and model development that was guided by an advisory group of state and national experts.

Measures That Matter identifies guiding principles for the development of next generation assessment, data and accountability systems including:

* Curriculum matters—States need to take responsibility for ensuring that all students have access to a quality curriculum in high school; standards are not enough.
* "Proficient" should mean "prepared"—High school tests should measure whether students are college- and career-ready, which means most states need new and better assessments. Those tests should not become "exit" exams but rather open doors for students to higher education and good jobs.
* More testing is not the goal; smarter testing is—If states add new tests, they should also take others away. Students and schools are already feeling over-tested.
* Schools should be held accountable for more than test results—While assessments should remain a central measurement tool, accountability indicators need to be expanded to reflect whether students are progressing toward achieving and exceeding college and career readiness.
* Accountability should be more about supporting improvement than punishing failure—Too often accountability systems have been heavy on sanctions, light on supports and even lighter on positive incentives; that balance needs to change.

This new vision represents an evolution, not a revolution. We are keenly aware of how much work has gone into states' current systems of standards, assessments and accountability, and we appreciate the challenges involved in making changes to those systems. At the same time, states know there are great risks in maintaining the status quo since most state systems have not kept pace with the expectations students face when they graduate from high school and enter the world.

As they have done on common college- and career-ready standards and increased graduation requirements, states are poised to lead on creating next generation assessment and accountability systems. These new tools should prove helpful to them. We also hope they will also be helpful to the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress as they consider how the federal government can best support states in their efforts to ensure that all students succeed.

Download PDFs of the Measures that Matter Executive Summary, the full guide, and the Assessment report. For more information, go to

New from Achieve

Postsecondary Connection

Achieve has long advocated that postsecondary leadership is critical to advancing state efforts to prepare all high school graduates for success in higher education and careers. Whether high school graduates are entering public or private institutions, pursuing two-and four-year degrees or entering training programs that will prepare them for the workforce, they all must be prepared for college and careers. The postsecondary community—from faculty to presidents—must, therefore, identify what students need to know to be successful in higher education. Communicating these requirements with the K-12 community, policymakers and the public and clearly making the connection between high school preparation and postsecondary success are fundamental to ensuring that students arrive at institutions ready to succeed.

With support from the Lumina Foundation, Achieve created its newest Web-based toolkit, Postsecondary Connection ( The toolkit provides tools, data and strategies that higher education leaders need to help link high school preparation and college success. Postsecondary Connection was created and is maintained by Achieve in collaboration with our co-sponsors: American Council on Education (ACE), Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), Data Quality Campaign (DQC), The Education Trust, National Association of System Heads (NASH) and State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO).

Achieve is seeking your input, ideas, materials and links as it works to ensure that the Web site is an essential resource for postsecondary leaders, their institutions and systems. Contact Nevin Brown, Achieve's Director of Postsecondary Initiatives, at with your questions and ideas.

Aligning Expectations: Using the American Diploma Project Algebra II Exam in Higher Education

ACE, Achieve and the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, Austin held the second annual meeting on "Advancing College Readiness: Higher Education's Role in Improving America's High Schools" on December 8-9 in Washington, DC. The goal of this series of meetings is to bring higher education and K-12 leaders together to explore how the Algebra II exam can serve as a catalyst for greater alignment between secondary and higher education and to drive improvement in student mathematics achievement. At the first meeting, held in October 2007, states had the opportunity to introduce the exam to key higher education leaders and discuss strategies for eventually using this test as an assessment of readiness for first-year, credit-bearing college mathematics courses. At this year's meeting, states were able to review student performance on the initial administration of the exam, examine the content of a form of the exam and strategize about how leaders can use this assessment to drive improved student performance.

Teams of K-12 and higher education leaders in states that are participating in the American Diploma Project (ADP) Assessment Consortium's Algebra II end-of-course exam attended. In addition to these state teams, representatives at this year's meeting included a range of national higher education associations as well as associations representing the mathematics discipline. The association representatives added a new dimension to the discussion and offered suggestions about ways in which the ADP Algebra II assessment initiative could reach mathematics faculty members, department chairs and other key institutional administrators more effectively.

More information about the ADP Assessment Consortium and the Algebra I and II exams is at:

Math Works

Achieve recently launched the Math Works advocacy kit, a collection of materials that make the case for why all students�regardless of their plans after graduation�should engage in rigorous math course-taking throughout their high school experiences. Since the release, Achieve has continued to add new materials to this kit, including the addition this month of a new fact sheet and PowerPoint presentation on "The Value of the Fourth Year of Mathematics," a new fact sheet on "Math's Double Standard," and the Math Works resource bank with an annotated bibliography, overview of Achieve's other math-related resources and links to national math organizations. The double standard fact sheet is featured on The Washington Post's x=why? blog.

In January, Achieve will release two additional Math at Work brochures presenting case studies drawn from civil engineering technology and semiconductor manufacturing to illustrate the advanced mathematics knowledge and skills embedded in jobs that offer opportunities for advancement and are accessible to high school graduates. Find all of the Math Works resources at:

New Mathematics Benchmarks Alignment Tool

Achieve has launched the Mathematics Benchmarks Alignment Tool, designed to be a user-friendly method for schools, districts and states to perform their own simple alignment analyses against the ADP Benchmarks or the Achieve model course standards for Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II. By uploading standards, the tool can create an alignment report that may be either printed or saved in an Excel format. While not as complete as an Achieve review, the Mathematics Benchmarks Tool helps users get a basic sense of the extent to which objectives for their selected mathematics courses actually address the full range of content needed for success after high school. This tool is especially helpful to those in the early stages of their standards review processes. More...

In the Spotlight: Hawaii's Efforts to Improve Math Outcomes

Hawaii administered the ADP Algebra II end-of-course exam in high schools last May to establish a baseline level of student achievement in mathematics; University of Hawaii campuses also administered the exam to student volunteers. Subsequently, Hawaii held a Mathematics Summit in October where math faculty from higher education and the Hawaii Department of Education shared information from the test administration and brainstormed about possible ways to address K-16 math issues. Hawaii is also planning future meetings where participants will examine how the ADP Algebra II end-of-course exam can be leveraged to upgrade high school Algebra I and II standards, improve the math course sequence between the Department of Education and the higher education system, and identify implications for teacher training.

Hawaii's efforts to improve students' success in mathematics and strengthen the alignment between K-12 and higher education mathematics courses were featured at the "Advancing College Readiness" meeting held December 8-9 in Washington, D.C. John Morton, University of Hawaii Vice-President for Community Colleges, and Wesley Yuu, Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education Senior Associate, discussed how the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Department of Education are working together to prepare high school graduates for credit-bearing postsecondary mathematics. More...

News Clips


Math Gains Reported for US Students

The 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results provide the latest snapshot of how U.S. students in 4th and 8th grade rank against their international counterparts on mathematics and science education assessments. U.S. students improved in mathematics while performance in science was flat or lower, indicating that there is much work to be done to improve student achievement in science. The results include scores from students in two states—Massachusetts and Minnesota—that have proved themselves to be internationally competitive, earning scores that rank them among the best in the world. More�.

Linking NAEP to College and Career Readiness

Education Week reports that the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB)—the board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—has voted to study ways to link NAEP to college and career readiness. This important step strongly aligns with the ADP agenda and assures states that building their own assessments to measure college and career readiness will keep them in step with NAEP. The ADP benchmarks were used by NAGB in their efforts to align NAEP with college and career readiness, and the resulting NAEP assessment frameworks are well-aligned with ADP. More...

Tennessee Works to Prepare College Students

The Tennessean reports that Tennessee's Board of Regents is overhauling remedial courses at the state's colleges and universities with the aim of boosting postsecondary graduation rates. Deborah Woolley, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, writes in an opinion piece that students need to understand clearly and early the high expectations postsecondary institutions and 21st century workplaces will demand from them. She writes: "Tennessee is boldly marching down that road. Under the leadership of Gov. Phil Bredesen, the Tennessee Diploma Project aligns college- and career-ready standards with high school graduation exit requirements."

New Resources

* Policies to Improve Instruction and Learning in High Schools

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) published "Policies to Improve Instruction and Learning in High Schools," which highlights a pilot project that NGA conducted in partnership with ACT. To improve the consistency and rigor of high school instruction, ACT trained 98 teachers in 18 high schools in three states—Mississippi, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania—on how to use state-of-the-art curriculum units and instructional methods that were integrated with a system of assessments. The project focused on 10th grade courses in English language arts, geometry and biology and aimed to prepare more high school graduates for the demands of higher education and careers. The results of the pilot project strongly suggest that when high school courses are well-aligned to rigorous standards, growth in achievement occurs. More...
* High Schools as Launch Pads: How College-Going Culture Improves Graduation Rates in Low-Income High Schools

The College Summit published a white paper, "High Schools as Launch Pads: How College-Going Culture Improves Graduation Rates in Low-Income High Schools." A growing body of research suggests that students who work hard in high school do so because they connect their efforts with the rewards available in college and careers after high school. The paper uses lessons from College Summit's work in schools and districts around the country to encourage state and national policymakers to support college readiness for all students. More...

* The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring that All Students Are on Target for College and Career Readiness before High School

ACT's newest report, "The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring that All Students Are on Target for College and Career Readiness before High School," suggests that the end of eighth grade is a critical defining point for students on the path towards college and career readiness. ACT finds that if students are not on target for college and career readiness by the eighth grade, the impact on their future success may be nearly irreversible. More...

* Counting on Graduation: An Agenda for State Leadership

The Education Trust published "Counting on Graduation: An Agenda for State Leadership." The report underscores that, among industrialized nations, the U.S. is the only country in which young people are now less likely than their parents to have earned a high school diploma. Reversing this trend is critical. More...

* Grad Nation

America's Promise Alliance launched Grad Nation, a resource designed to help communities develop tailored plans for keeping students on track to graduate from high school and prepare for college, careers and life. It provides research-based guidance for addressing the dropout crisis, offering ready-to-print tools and links to online resources. Achieve is an America's Promise Alliance Partner. More...

* En Route to Seamless Statewide Education Data Systems: Addressing Five Cross-Cutting Concerns

The State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) published "En Route to Seamless Statewide Education Data Systems: Addressing Five Cross-Cutting Concerns." The paper suggests key processes that can help states develop successful longitudinal data systems. The report is a result of a 2007 SHEEO workshop, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that brought together cross-sector, data-focused leadership teams from eleven states (including seven ADP Network states), along with prominent content experts. More...

Perspective is sent to you by Achieve, Inc., a bipartisan, non-profit organization founded by the nation’s governors and CEOs to help states raise standards, improve assessments and strengthen accountability to prepare all young people for postsecondary education, careers and citizenship. Please feel free to circulate this e-newsletter to your colleagues.

If you received this e-mail from a friend and would like to subscribe, click here.
If you would like to comment, click here.

Copyright © 2008 Achieve, Inc.

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.

Lumina Website Very Useful on College Success

Lumina Foundation has a periodic email blast that is filled with useful information on college preparation and completion. See sample below:
Research » Lumina relies on research to advance student

The Iron Triangle: College Presidents Talk About Costs, Access and Quality

Cost, quality and access have a reciprocal relationship, contend college presidents in a report from the National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education. This publication examines the views of more than 30 college presidents and highlights the gap in perceptions between the public/business sector and college presidents. More »

Related Topics: 2008, Accountability, College Access, College Costs, Institutional Quality, Research
Tuition Equity Legislation: Investing in Colorado High School Graduates Through Equal Opportunity to Postsecondary Education

Each year, 65,000 students who graduate from U.S. high schools share something in common: They are among undocumented students from immigrant families who cannot afford to pay nonresident or out-of-state tuition and fees for college. This publication from the Higher Education Access Alliance calls on Colorado lawmakers to prohibit discrimination against undocumented students by modifying the state's ban on public benefits to include a higher education exception. More »

Related Topics: 2008, College Access, Research, Undocumented Immigrant Students
High Expectations, High Support

Many community college students say their coursework is challenging, but evidence suggests institutions can do more to promote student success. Findings from this publication, the 2008 Community College Survey of Student Engagement, show that 67 percent of full-time students spend 10 or fewer hours preparing for class in an average week. Similarly, 39 percent of students say peer or other tutoring is "very important," but only 7 percent say they often use tutors. More »

Related Topics: 2008, Community Colleges, Engagement, Raw Data, Research
Trends in College Pricing 2008

This report provides detailed, updated information on prices for tuition and fees and room and board at colleges and universities in the United States, as well as other expenses postsecondary students incur. In addition, it includes information on enrollment patterns, other aspects of higher education finance, and the net prices students pay after taking grant aid into consideration. More »

Related Topics: 2008, College Board, College Costs, College Pricing, Raw Data, Research

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.

Gates To Pay Students For College Persistence and Completion.

Gates Foundation will pay 2 and 4 year college students between $1,000 and $4,000 to continue in college and graduate. Less than half of all students complete college including vocational certificates. MDRC will conduct a random control study to assess the impact of the payments on student behavior. Studies by Clifford Adelman in the Tool Box Revisited stressed that students had a higher probability of college completion if they entered college right after high school, stayed continuously enrolled, attended summer school, and did not withdraw from classes. Hopefully, these are the kind of behaviors Gates will test to see if they make a difference.


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.

Measuring Up Report Charts New Directions For College Preparation and Completion

The 2008 National Report Card: Modest Improvements, Persistent Disparities, Eroding Global Competitiveness
By Patrick M. Callan

President, The National Center For Higher Education and Public Policy, San Jose, Ca.

Measuring Up 2008 is the most recent in the series of national and state-by-state report cards for higher education that was inaugurated in 2000. The key findings this year reveal that the nation and most of the 50 states are making some advances in preparing students for college and providing them with access to higher education. However, other nations are advancing more quickly than the United States; we continue to slip behind other countries in improving college opportunities for our residents. In addition, large disparities in higher education performance by race/ethnicity, by income, and by state limit our nation’s ability to advance the educational attainment of our workforce and citizenry—and thereby remain competitive globally.
College Preparation
Young Americans who graduate from high school on time are now more likely to take courses that prepare them for college and to enroll in college, compared with earlier this decade or in the 1990s. But far too many graduates leave high school unprepared to succeed in college-level courses and need remediation when they enroll. In addition, larger proportions than in the past fail to graduate from high school; some eventually receive alternative high school certification, principally the GED, but they do not enroll in college in large numbers. The reduced high school graduation rate decreases the pool of potential college graduates and college-educated workers.
Access to College
The likelihood that a high school freshman will enroll in college by age 19 has improved modestly in this decade, from 39% to 42%, and the proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college has grown even more modestly. Meanwhile, the enrollment of working-age adults in college-level education or training has been declining since the early 1990s. Overall, the Measuring Up indicators show that access to college is fairly flat in the United States, with mostly small improvements in some states and declines in others.
College Graduation
For students who enroll in college, rates of completion of certificate, associate, and baccalaureate programs are poor and have improved only slightly. These low college completion rates—as with the declining rates of high school completion—are depriving the nation of college-educated and trained workers needed to keep the American workforce competitive globally.
International Comparisons
The United States’ world leadership in college access has eroded steadily, as reflected in the international comparisons of the proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college (see Figure 1). In college completion, which has never been a strength of American higher education, the U.S. ranks 15th among 29 countries compared (see Figure 2). The U.S. adult population ages 35 and older still ranks among the world leaders in the percentage who have college degrees—reflecting the educational progress of earlier times (see Figure 3). Among 25- to 34-year-olds, however, the U.S. population has slipped to 10th in the percentage who have an associate degree or higher (see Figure 4). This relative erosion of our national “educational capital” reflects the lack of significant improvement in the rates of college participation and completion in recent years.
These cross-national comparisons place the nation’s higher education performance in a global context and reflect the gaps that have opened between the United States and other nations. These disparities undermine our national value of individual opportunity and our collective capacity to succeed in the knowledge-based global economy. Addressing these disparities is critical because:
 Education and training beyond high school is a prerequisite for employment that supports a middle-class life. This is a reality for most Americans.
 Seventy-eight million Americans are reaching or approaching retirement age, and this is the best-educated generation in the United States—both currently and historically.
 As the nation’s demography changes, large proportions of the younger generations are among those who are least well-served by the U.S. system of education currently: those whose educational opportunity and attainment reflect the disadvantages of race, income, and geography.
Persistent Disparities
To make significant headway in increasing the educational attainment of its population and thereby its comparative standing internationally, the United States must address disparities in educational opportunity and achievement among Americans. These persistent gaps must be closed if the United States is to meet its workforce needs and compete globally.
First, the high school graduation rate (the percentage of ninth graders who complete a standard high school diploma in four years) has decreased for all racial and ethnic groups over the past three decades, and differences between racial and ethnic groups persist. By the middle of this decade:
 the national on-time high school graduation rate was 77.5%,
 the rate for African Americans was 69.1%, and
 the rate for Hispanics was 72.3%.1
Meanwhile, a growing number of high school students are taking longer to complete or are leaving high school without a standard diploma; some who drop out earn GEDs but are less likely to enroll in any form of postsecondary education and those who do enroll are less likely to complete a certificate or degree.
In addition, disparities in college access are closely linked to race/ethnicity and income. While college attendance has increased for all groups over the past three decades, gaps in enrollment among racial/ethnic groups have not diminished. For high school graduates, 73% of whites, 56% of blacks, and 58% of Hispanics enroll in college the next fall.2 In terms of family income, 91% of high school students from families in the highest income group (family income of $100,001 or more) enroll in college. The enrollment rate for students from middle-income families (family income between $50,001 to $100,000) is 78% and for those in the lowest income group (family income between $0 and $20,000) the rate is 52%.3
The racial and ethnic disparities that exist in preparation for and access to college are also found in college completion rates. For example, 59% of white students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling in college. In contrast, 47% of Hispanic students, 41% of African Americans, and 39% of Native American students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.
Finally, the state-by-state variation in educational performance represents another source of disparity and inequity for Americans. As reflected in the Measuring Up state report cards and grades, the likelihood of graduating from high school prepared for higher education, enrolling in college, and graduating from an affordable college or university differs enormously by state of residence. Here are some examples:
 High school freshmen in California, compared with their peers in Massachusetts, are 17% less likely to enroll in college by age 19. High school freshmen in Pennsylvania are 12% less likely to enroll than those in South Carolina or Utah.
 Half of young adults (ages 18 to 24) are enrolled in college in Rhode Island, while only 18% are in Alaska. Young adults are 15% more likely to be enrolled in college in Iowa than in Georgia, and 11% more likely to be enrolled in Massachusetts than in Texas.
Given our relative decline internationally and the gaps in higher education performance within our borders, no state can afford to maintain the status quo. As Measuring Up 2008 reveals, even the best-performing states have gaps in performance they need to—and can—address. Narrowing those gaps will improve educational and economic opportunity in those states and for the nation as a whole.
Dimensions of the National Deterioration of College Affordability
The deterioration of college affordability throughout the United States has contributed to the disparities in higher education opportunity and attainment. There are several dimensions to this national and state problem.
First, college tuition continues to outpace family income and the price of other necessities, such as medical care, food, and housing (see Figure 5). Whatever the causes of these tuition increases, the continuation of trends of the last quarter century would place higher education beyond the reach of most Americans and would greatly exacerbate the debt burdens of those who do enroll.
Second, the erosion of college affordability has been exacerbated not only by increased tuition, but also by relatively flat or declining family incomes. As a result of these trends, the financial burden of paying for college costs has increased substantially, particularly for low- and middle-income families, even when scholarships and grants are taken into account (see Table 1).
Third, students who do enroll in college are taking on more debt to maintain their college access. More students are borrowing (see Figure 6), and they are borrowing more. Over the last decade, student borrowing has more than doubled (see Figure 7).
Another dimension of the problem of college affordability involves the financial aid priorities of colleges and universities, which are not in synch with public policy priorities. Currently, students from middle- and upper-income families receive larger grants from colleges and universities than students from low-income families receive (see Table 2).
Measuring Up 2008 identifies clearly the key areas of improvement and decline in higher education performance in the United States. States have made some modest advances, but these improvements are overshadowed by larger gains by other countries, and by the deterioration of college affordability throughout the United States. The relative erosion of our national “educational capital” has occurred at a time when we need more people to be college educated and trained because of Baby Boomer retirements and rising skill requirements for new and existing jobs.
Meanwhile, states are grappling with substantial budget shortfalls. In this fiscal cycle, state leaders face a crucial choice in determining state policy for higher education. They can respond to their current budget crises in the usual patterns of the past, by allowing tuition and student aid policy to play second fiddle to institutional finance. States that select this course will most likely see precipitous tuition increases, cuts in student financial aid, and drops in college access. Further, if states take this path in being passive and complicit in allowing the brunt of the financial distress to be passed to students and families, then our national and state gaps in college access and completion will worsen, and college affordability will continue to deteriorate.
But states have another option: to establish state policies for tuition and student aid that balance the financial burden for higher education among states, the institutions of higher education, and students and families. This is both a short- and long-term strategy that makes state policy more transparent, grounds it in the needs and financial circumstances of state residents, establishes college affordability as a priority, protects educational opportunity, and in the process helps to meet the needs of states and the nation for a well-educated workforce and citizenry.
1. James J. Heckman and Paul A. LaFontaine, “The American High School Graduation Rate: Trends and Levels,” Institute for the Study of Labor, IZA Discussion Paper Series, No. 3216 (December 2007).
2. National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), “Education Longitudinal Study of 2002,” Digest of Education Statistics 2007 (Washington, D.C.: March 25, 2008).
3. NCES, “Education Longitudinal Study of 2002” (Washington, D.C.: October 2007), Table 6.

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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.

Income Disparity between White and Latino College Students Is Growing

UCLA reports that the income difference between 4 year college entering white and Latino students has quadrupled over the past 30 years- from $8,000 in 1975 to $33,000 in 2006. Moreover, in 1975 57% of Latino first year entering students were men compared to 39% in 2006. I wonder if the two statistics are interrelated, or whether college preparation is crucial. See report from UCLA Higher Education Research Institute

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.

Communit College Students Do Not Apply For Student Aid

A new report stresses a variety of reasons for community colleges not applying for federal aid. The main reason is not the complicated FAFSA form .Often community college students see themselves more as workers than as students because they attend college part time. Some do not think they are elible and others use work income to pay fees.Over 29% of students in community colleges with incomes less than 10k do not apply for federal aid. High schools could help by having all their seniors fill out Fafsa forms and better counseling.
See report from the Federal Advisory Council on Student Financial Assistance

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.

College Completion Rates and Suggestions For Improvement

Guest blogger who runs a very useful website for students and parents-GoCollege

by Thomas J Hanson, Editor ,

Poor college completion rates - suggested solutions even worse.

The results of a first-of-its-kind study recently graced the front pages of the Boston Globe. In Hub Grads Come Up Short in College, James Vaznis revealed an all too similar refrain regarding college completion rates.

Of the members of the graduating class from Boston high schools for the year 2000 who had gone on to higher education, nearly two-thirds of the class had not earned a college diploma seven years after they had begun collegiate studies.

The findings were particularly troublesome for a city that has touted its steadily increasing college enrollment rates over the last few years. In simplest terms, Boston does see more high school graduates enrolled in college than does the nation as a whole, but the college completion rate for those students is actually lower than the national average.


City of Prestigious Institutions
The news hit the city, often dubbed the ‘”Center of American Higher Education,” extremely hard. The Globe editorial staff penned a companion piece the same day entitled, Getting in Isn’t Enough.

Stating it was time “to take a long and deep look into the gulf between ‘getting in’ and ‘getting through college’,” the editorial revealed some incredibly dismal numbers.


* students attending two-year community colleges had a 12 percent graduation rate.
* students attending four-year public state colleges had approximately a 33 percent graduation rate.
* students at four-year, private colleges managed the best rate at 56 percent.

Another revealing statistic, not evident in the editorial but on display in Vaznis’ article, referred to the completion status calculation more fully. It seems that not all of the 675 students who were deemed to have graduated had actually earned a bachelor’s degree. Also included in the completion rate were students who had earned either a certificate or an associate’s degree.

Thomas M. Menino, the Mayor of Boston, responded by announcing a major initiative. It set forth a goal of increasing the college graduation rate by 50 percent for this year’s high school seniors. In addition, the Mayor went on to suggest a goal of doubling the rate a second time for those students who are currently high school sophomores.

“We want to make sure all our kids in Boston get a good education and graduate from college,” Menino is quoted by the Globe. “It’s not just about getting into college but how to stay in college.”
As but another step that has been uttered time and again across America in recent years, officials indicated it was time the city school system did a better job of preparing its high school students for success after graduation. That was followed by the traditional hue and cry to raise K-12 education standards.

And last but not least, the traditional basis for pushing all students towards earning a bachelor’s degree was postured once again.

“A graduate of a four-year college will make almost $1 million more than a high school graduate over a lifetime,” Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, told the Globe. “We need to help students every step of the way earn the prize: a college degree.”

The Wrong Focus
The state of public education has focused on the K-12 system in recent years. During that time frame, higher education has earned a free pass. In fact, the general consensus from most folks is that America’s colleges and universities represent the best of the educational system in our country.

However, Mark Schneider, the vice president for new educational initiatives at the American Institutes for Research, offers a very contrasting viewpoint. In The Costs of Failure Factories in American Higher Education, Schneider asks, “If there is virtually universal agreement that American high schools are failing, how do our colleges and universities measure up against such a low benchmark?”

Turns out not very well.

WikipediaIt can be difficult comparing data but Schneider does his best to compare apples to apples. However, he does note one specific advantage for higher education: colleges generally use a six year window as the norm for completing the four years of study while high school calculations are based on a four year timeframe.

“The median high school graduation rate, for example, is 77 percent,” writes Schneider, “but the median post-secondary graduation rate is more than twenty-five points lower. While American high schools graduate about three-fourths of their students in four years, American colleges graduate only about half of their students in six.”

Schneider indicates that there are also significant differences by type of institution. But the key notion is a simple one: “The low high school graduation rates that have long been decried as a failure of America’s education system are mirrored in even lower college graduation rates.”

In addition, the long-standing differences in high school graduation rates based on race and ethnicity have led to expressions such as “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” But while public education K-12 is often labeled in such a manner, it must be duly noted that colleges and universities also see large gaps in post-secondary completion rates when comparing whites to blacks and Hispanics.

College Does Not Work for Many Students
One positive is that the poor completion rates are finally catching people’s attention. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently launched a new initiative that seeks to sort through the poor completion rates of college bound students, particularly those who have chosen the community college route.

In the Globe article, there is at least some acknowledgment of the “enormous barriers facing urban high school graduates.” Vaznis points out that many of the individuals being discussed within the study are the very first members of their respective families to actually attend college.

The writer notes further that the study did not specifically address reasons for the low graduation rates. But he speculates, quite soundly, that “these students often have financial problems, some are raising children, and others are held back by a need to retake high school courses in college because they lack basic skills.”

In regards to the issue of college preparedness, a short time ago we discussed the words of Marty Nemko, a man dubbed the “The Ralph Nader of Education.” At that time we offered what Nemko calls his ‘killer statistic.’

Marty Nemko“For those aspiring college students who finished in the bottom 40 percent of their high school classes, but went on to attempt to secure a four-year degree right out of high school, roughly two-thirds had studied for the better part of eight and a half years without obtaining a diploma.”

In simplest terms, those students who lack the ability to handle the rigor associated with college are unsuccessful when they give college a try.

Nemko adds that “only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science.”

Yet four-year colleges admit and accept funds “from hundreds of thousands of such students each year.” However, according to the data we have just reviewed, those same schools fail to see these students through the process of completing their degree program.

Nemko pulls no punches with his summary assessments.

“Colleges and universities are businesses, and students are a cost item, while research is a profit center.

“As a result, many institutions tend to educate students in the cheapest way possible: large lecture classes, with necessary small classes staffed by rock-bottom-cost graduate students. At many colleges, only a small percentage of the typical student’s classroom hours will have been spent with fewer than 30 students taught by a professor.”

And as for the quality of instruction, well:

“The more prestigious the institution, the more likely that faculty members are hired and promoted much more for their research than for their teaching. Professors who bring in big research dollars are almost always rewarded more highly than a fine teacher who doesn’t bring in the research bucks.”

Square Pegs, Round Holes
Ultimately we have the worst of all potential situations: students who do not have the academic ability to handle the level of rigor that college must demand combined with ill-equipped institutions of higher education that seem incapable of helping these students succeed.

That issue is then exacerbated by education officials who continue to insist that all we must do is simply raise standards further and that by doing so, somehow the square peg, round hole malady facing us will disappear.

Unfortunately, those same officials also insist that the only path to success in life is by way of a college education. It is the same nonsense that brought forth the No Child Left Behind Act and the oxymoron, proficiency for all.

The notion that college is for everyone really just pushes NCLB to the K-16 arena. It is the fundamental belief that every child regardless of innate ability must be placed on a ‘bachelor’s degree or bust’ path, followed by the assumption that every student is capable of such academic rigor.

Benjamin LyonsThis is a false and damaging assumption. A bachelor’s degree for every student is no more viable than setting forth a goal of a masters or a PhD for every student. Yet, would we ever in our right minds suggest that such a standard is possible?

It is time that those in charge came to their senses and acknowledged that other approaches to learning are possible. It is time to recognize that hands on vocational schooling and working apprenticeships can be just as viable for helping students learn as the traditional academic teaching tools of reading and writing.

If only our educational experts could grasp that our country needs skilled workers as well as college graduates they might embark on a different path, one that creates multiple educational opportunities for our youngsters based on a goal of helping all students succeed.

What we do not need is more high school or college drop outs. But instead of examining the real issue, a one size fits all approach to education, we opt to tinker with standards and expectations, then set goals that are beyond the reach of many students.

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