Diplomas and Dropouts

I’m not sure how I missed this but it showed in a Google Alert recently and I found it interesting. The American Enterprise Institute published a report last June on dropout rates from colleges. The blog post said they wished 4 year graduation rates had been used rather than 6 years rates but, six rates are the norm.

Six year graduation rates are indeed the norm for several reasons. First, the university is not a Wal-Mart where you buy products and then check out. You take courses, have experiences, and get an education. And I do mean education, not training. Getting an education takes time depending on the student, how easily they learn, how hard they work, and to a degree, how long it takes them to decide on a specific major. Second, college is not always inexpensive. Many students will have to take time off to work, either full-time or part-time, and that will add to their graduation time. Others will participate in study abroad programs which are outstanding but may not provide the usual course load. Some students will also participate in internships which may or may not earn credit towards a degree. Third, students are, in some senses, adults and have adult problems. Sometimes these take a while to work through. For these and other reasons, six year graduation rates are used. As long as all schools are being compared by the same standard then the length of time should not be a problem

Mississippi State University is listed with a 58% graduation rate which compares to a state average of 46.1%. The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss as they like to call themselves) clocks in at 53% and the University of Southern Mississippi comes in at 48%. Given that all three of these schools are not able to be very selective; these rates do not really surprise me. To a certain extent they have to take a large portion of students who rank low on national tests, have either low high school GPAs or come from subpar schools with inflated GPAs. We know many of them are not going to be successful but they are given a chance to prove themselves.

Before you assume that the better schools are tougher and have the higher dropout rates, think again. It appears that the tougher schools have higher graduation rates. Harvard comes in at 97%, MIT at 93%, Stanford at 95%. Yale is at 96% and Princeton is at 95%. You might also note that these schools are also some of the most expensive in the nation. It really is no surprise that by only accepting the very best and brightest, as Harvard, MIT, and the like are able to do, that they will have high graduation rates.

Unfortunately, this report only included university level data and not college level data. I would be very interested to see how we stack up among engineering schools. I do know that the Bagley College is working on improving its retention rate but the graduation rate of those who enter our college and graduate from college is higher than the university average. They do not necessarily graduate in engineering but they do graduate from college. I should also point out that the Bagley College has higher admissions guidelines than the rest of the university so we are in fact more selective.

One conclusion which can be gleaned from the report is that an education at a state institution is a good deal. For those students who are capable of academic work, a state university offers a quality education at an affordable rate.


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