Phi Beta Cons

Is It Fair to Call Them “Failure Factories”?

In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I discuss the recent AEI paper “The Costs of Failure Factories in American Higher Education,” by Mark Schneider.

The main question raised by the paper is whether the low graduation rate that prevails across our higher-education system (while some schools have very high rates, many others have rates that are low, and in a few instances zero) is a national problem. Schneider and many others conclude that it is a problem, but I say all it means is that we lure too many weak students into college in the first place. My conclusion:

High school guidance counselors are in the best position to help young people choose the best path given their strengths and weaknesses, but as professor Kenneth Gray and Edwin Herr observe in their book Other Ways to Win, many guidance counselors push college attendance on almost every student, apparently fearing that they’ll be seen as failures if they have a low rate of students enrolling in college.
We don’t need to worry about our college graduation rates, but if they went up because fewer students who have little academic ability or interest enrolled, that would be good.

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

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