Study: Fewer than two-thirds of students graduate in six years

    Despite the past four decades’ high growth in the percentage of high school graduates attending college, only six out of 10 full-time students actually graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years, according to a new report.

    In a job market that increasingly requires skills acquired through higher education, the disappointing rates may be hurting economic growth, the study by the nonprofit Education Trust found.

    “Over half a million collegians every year … fall short of acquiring the credentials, skills and knowledge they seek,” said Kevin Carey, the report’s author and a senior policy analyst with the group, which advocates higher academic achievement. “This is a huge national problem because as economies in other nations mature and evolve, external job pressure is creeping further up the income and skills ladder.”

    For UCSD, the graduation rate is well above the national average. Eighty-three percent of the freshman class of 1997 graduated within six years in the most recent six-year period, according to campus Director of Student Research Bill Armstrong.

    Armstrong credits the better performance to student achievement.

    “The kind of student who chooses UCSD … comes here expecting to be challenged,” Armstrong said. “[They] tend to be very studious, hardworking and more prepared for college.”

    Congressional Republicans, whose Higher Education Act reauthorization proposal has faced opposition from higher education lobbyists, cited the report as proof of the failure of advocacy groups to address high dropout rates.

    “[We] have yet to hear a formal response from the higher education lobbying community,” wrote lawmakers John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) in a letter to the education associations, in response to criticism from groups that their massive higher education bill fails to address the needs of students.

    However, the American Council on Education, a major association that represents education institutions, called the report inaccurate and faulty. The Education Trust report is highly inaccurate because it relies on misleading federal statistics, said A.C.E. director of public affairs Tim McDonough.

    Under the current methodology, the Department of Education only counts the success of full-time first-year students who complete a degree within six years. It does not include students who transfer from other campuses, and instead counts them as dropouts from the school they transferred from. Also, current calculations exclude part-time college students.

    “If you started as a full-time student and then changed to part-time, you would be considered a dropout,” McDonough said. “We’re ready to help [Congress], but we think that graduation rates are a lot higher than they [seem]. We need to start working from accurate numbers to see what we’re dealing with.”

    Hispanic rates lagging behind

    Though the Education Trust report found the national rates a worry for all ethnic groups, a separate study by the nonprofit Pew Hispanic Center suggests that the problem is even more pronounced for Hispanic students.

    The report found that, although Hispanic high school graduates are just as likely as their white counterparts to enter college, Hispanic undergraduates are almost 25 percent less likely to receive a bachelor’s degree.

    At nonselective institutions, 81 percent of white students receive a bachelor’s degree, compared to only 57 percent of Latinos, according to the report.

    A number of reasons account for the differences, according to Patrick Velasquez, director of UCSD’s Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services.

    “The [biggest] problem lies in the failure of institutions to be open and accessible to Chicano [and Latino] students and validate their presence,” he said. “Students feel neglected and not represented in the staff and curriculum.”

    While the graduation rate for Hispanic undergraduates is higher at UCSD than at other campuses, they still has the lowest five-year completion rate of any ethnic group on campus and Velasquez still believes that the numbers are a serious problem, one that the school is not properly addressing.

    “[There has] never been a comprehensive institution wide focus on this problem,” Velasquez said. “I don’t think they’re doing enough.”

    Though “symbolic gestures,” like the creation of the Preuss charter school, may bring some Hispanic students to the campus, Velasquez said they will not solve the problem.

    In addition to academic preparation, the report from the Pew Hispanic Center attributed a collection of other outside factors to the success of the students in college.

    One such factor is the pressure on Hispanic students, said Liliana Corona, a part-time student at Miramar College.

    “Working in our culture is a more realistic way to get by, rather than getting a degree,” Corona said. “College wasn’t stressed at my house. Doing well was stressed, but not going straight into a university.”

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