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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Rise in dropouts reflects students, not universities

    The U.S. college dropout rate is about 40 percent, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Pressure from the government and the benefits of a high retention rate have encouraged universities and education reformers to combat this trend. College degrees improve lives and the economy, and any help to produce more graduates should be welcomed. However, at some point, schools can only do so much, and students need to take responsibility for their own education.

    Out of 1,400 schools surveyed by The Chronicle, nearly one-third reported lower graduation rates for the six-year period ending in 2008 than in 2003. This survey doesn’t include people who graduated in more than six years or people who transferred and completed their degree at another college, and it only includes first time, full-time students. This means that while a one-third lower graduation rate doesn’t seem so bad at a first glance, the number of people represented in the survey is lacking.

    However, the survey revealed a trend: students who graduate in four years are now a minority. In fact, U.S. News reports that only 40 percent of full-time, first time students graduate in four years. The UA Fact Book indicates that on campus, the graduation rate has been slowly rising, but only about 34 percent graduate in four years, while 60 percent graduate in six.

    People immediately assume the college is at fault when a student drops out, but in reality, it’s not the school’s job to graduate students on time. Students need to motivate themselves. After all, the longer it takes to graduate, the more money it costs, which is a major reason people drop out of school.

    “Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them,” a 2009 Public Report for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, reports that the top two reasons students drop out of college are financially related. Fifty-four percent reported that, “I needed to go to work and make money,” and 31 percent reported that, “I just couldn’t afford the tuition and fees.”

    Some colleges are trying to alleviate this financial burden by instituting “degree guarantee programs.” According to U.S. News, these programs would guarantee a student will graduate within four years, or the college will pay the subsequent tuition costs until they graduate. Of course, the bar is set high for students because they must earn good grades and have open communication with their advisers.

    Randolph-Macon College in Virginia debuted this program last fall, and is pleased with the results thus far. “In some sense, this was kind of a low risk thing for us,” Anthony Ambrogi, director of admissions and enrollment research, said to U.S. News. “This was a way for us to put (families’) minds at ease.”

    Colleges that want higher graduation rates should consider altering their finances to provide more academic support for students. Tuition is rising all over the country, and perhaps a degree guarantee program here at the UA, or a tuition freeze, as Arizona State University’s President Michael Crow recently proposed, would produce more graduates.

    However, money isn’t the only thing driving students out of college. The next seven reasons for dropping out, according to the report, have very little, if anything, to do with finances. The survey showed 21 percent said they needed a break from school, 16 percent said they had to take too many useless classes and 16 percent didn’t have enough time for their family. Only 10 percent reported dropping out because the course material was too difficult.

    The Chronicle reported that, “colleges have raised graduation rates through proactive advising and by better integrating freshmen into campus life, among other measures.” Cornell University researchers found similar information, including that, “colleges that spent more on student services, such as tutoring, tended to report increased graduation rates.” Tutoring and advising are certainly useful tools for determined students, but if students drop because they think their classes are boring, as so many indicated by their answers in “Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them,” they probably aren’t too determined.

    Low graduation rates look bad for colleges, but if the reason students aren’t graduating on time is because they need a vacation or a consider classes useless, then we should stop pointing fingers at the institution and start placing the blame where it should lay: students. School officials shouldn’t lose any sleep over the students who drop out for bogus reasons.

    — Lauren Shores is a journalism sophomore. She can reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions .

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