Phi Beta Cons

The Importance of Knowing College Graduation Rates

AEI recently published a paper arguing that it is important for parents to look into the graduation rates at colleges they’re considering.

I’m not sure that having graduation-rate information is useful. Whether or not a student graduates depends upon his or her willingness to do what the school requires. At schools with low graduation rates, it’s not the case that students are like gamblers in a game where the odds are greatly against them. It’s just that most of the students who enroll are weak, disengaged, and don’t do what is required. The percentage of students who do graduate didn’t get lucky; they did the work to earn the credits they needed.

Searching for a school with a relatively high graduation rate isn’t necessarily going to ensure success for a student with poor academic skills and habits. 

Also, it’s possible that schools with higher graduation rates get those rates because they have contrived to make it easy for students to pass courses and stay on track for graduation no matter how weak their ability and how slight their academic progress — the problem Arum and Roksa discuss in Academically Adrift. And as we know, simply having a degree to your name doesn’t guarantee a job that pays even moderately well. Schools that manage to string along weak students until they graduate might be doing them more harm than good.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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