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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    To increase college graduation rates, change attitudes, not incentives

    Last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry made what many called an ambitious step toward reforming higher education. Incentivize performance of Texas schools, Perry said, by tying 10 percent of state funding to the graduation rate of each institution.

    Although this may sound like an innovative idea to increase college graduation rates in Texas and around the country, including the UA, there are several factors that must be taken into account. In all likelihood, this would not be an effective way to increase the graduation rate at UA, or other Arizona schools.

    First, consider the specifics of such a proposal to Arizona educational institutions. What are the goals? Should they be customized to each school, or should there be a universal quota that each school should meet when it comes to graduating students?
    Should this be based on four-year graduation rates alone? Or should six-year rates be factored in as well?

    If the bar is set too high, the UA may not meet the minimal standards — with a 40 percent graduation rate, it is highly likely that the university would fail to meet graduation goals for the first few years such a policy was in place.

    Additionally, many university programs and departments don’t rely heavily on state funding, due to the state’s lack of interest in college success rates.

    In fiscal year 2010-2011, the most recent available data, the UA garnered over $660 million in gifts and grants, almost twice as much as the $344 million allotted by the state during the same time-frame, and well over twice as much as the $281 million the state is appropriating to the UA this year.

    With a vast amount of funds being generated outside state funds, some individual departments and programs may not need the threat of a cutoff in state funds due to exterior research grants and other sources, even while other programs suffer from lack of revenue.
    Besides, the state Legislature (not one to prioritize higher education), in its current Tea Party makeup, would be more than happy to cut additional funds from the state’s higher education institutions and redirect the funds to private prisons.

    Another issue is the general apathy among students. With rising tuition woes, schools treating students as if they do not have work while work treats students as though they do not have school, students have enough reasons to develop a four-year migraine.

    And student apathy is often left unchecked by departments, teachers and administrators. In a freshman introductory seminar, the dean of my college gave us a valuable lesson about how college would turn out for us and our peers.

    “Look at the student next to you,” he said. “One of you won’t be here next semester.”

    That was our encouraging introduction to the academic lives we would have to struggle through at the UA.

    This tendency to hammer students into survival mode for their college experience is not new — this has been ingrained into the attitudes of colleges and universities, and the nation’s 60-percent average graduation rate for public education institutions reflects that.

    If we are to improve our graduation rate, we must first improve the quality of our education. The first step is to refrain from telling students that half of them are going to drop out. That just might improve students’ attitudes toward their higher education.

    Encouraging and supportive faculty is also necessary. Students can’t be told that university life is easy, or have the difficulties sugarcoated, but telling students that they can succeed goes much further than saying they will have to drop out.

    These solutions and more can work toward improving education, retention and graduation rates. Cutting funding from the state that consistently ranks 49th or 50th in per-student funding will not provide the proper incentive to raise our graduation numbers.

    — Andres Dominguez is a senior studying political science and journalism. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.

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