Keep movin', movin', movin'
Though they're disapprovin'
Keep them doggies movin', rawhide
Don't try to understand 'em
Just rope, throw an' brand 'em
Soon we'll be livin' high an' wide
Theme from Rawhide
Written by Dimitri Tiomkin & Ned Washington
David Kirp wrote an op ed essay
in the Sunday Times
suggesting ways to cut college dropout rates. College dropout rates are indeed high. As Kirp pointed out, only 53 percent of college freshmen earn a four-year degree within six years. Among community-college students, the six-year completion rate is even lower.
Kirp's prescription for keeping students in college boils down to this: More individualized attention and early intervention for struggling students. I'm sure he's right.
It's not easy to get college professors to care about students
I have two gentle criticisms of Kirp's thesis. First, everyone knows that caring teachers and administrators and individualized attention for struggling students produce better academic outcomes. That is true at both the K-12 and college level. There is nothing new about this observation.
The problem is finding enough faculty members and administrators who care about student success. You can't just snap your figures and make professors more caring. I've worked at four public universities, and I've seen instructors who regularly failed to show up to teach their classes. I've seen faculty members who were sexual predators; and I've known professors who didn't give students any feedback on their written work--they just gave all their students As. And I've seen a lot of professors who are simply burned out.
As I'm sure Professor Kirp is aware, we have tenure at American universities; and we must keep professors on the payroll whether they care about their students or not. I suppose universities could take some sort of remedial action to get professors to up their game, but in my opinion, most of the disengaged and lazy faculty members who work at our universities are irredeemable. They will hang on to their jobs until they reach retirement age or even longer.
Staying in college doesn't always make sense
Second, it only makes sense to keep students from dropping out of college if they are in degree programs that lead to well paying jobs. We're not doing students any favor if we entice them to take out more and more student loans in order to get college degrees that don't pay well enough to service their college-loan debt.
Paul Campos made this point in his book Don't Go to Law School (Unless)
. The job market is so bad for lawyers who graduate from second- and third-tier law schools, Campos argued, that students at these schools whose first-year grades don't put them at the top of their class would be better off dropping out of law school than incurring more debt to continue their studies and get a law degree.
Campos' observation works for undergraduates as well. I have a nephew who flunked out of college at the end of his freshman year and got a job as a pipe fitter's apprentice. He is making good money in the shipbuilding trade--more than he would have made had he continued in college and gotten a liberal arts degree. It would make absolutely no sense for my nephew to leave a good job and go back to college.
The Truth: Most colleges are trying to keep dropout rates down in order to maximize their revenues
Here's the truth of the matter. Most colleges are not trying to cut their attrition rates because they care about students. They're simply trying to keep kids in school to maximize their revenues. In fact, Kirp implicitly acknowledged this fact when he wrote, "The good news for financially strapped universities: not only do these [attrition cutting] initiatives change students' lives, they more than pay for themselves." After all students who stay in school generate more student-loan revenue and more Pell Grant money.
In reality, college administrators are like the cattlemen who herded Longhorn cows up the Chisholm Trail from South Texas to the Kansas rail heads during the 1870s. Those cowboys didn't care about individual cows, but every little doggie that made it to Abilene meant more money. And what happened to the cows that survived the trail drive? They got shipped to the Chicago slaughter houses.
Likewise, college administrators want to keep as many tuition-paying students in school as they can, even if those students are borrowing money to pursue worthless degrees. They gotta keep them doggies movin'.
|Keep them sophomores movin'|
David L. Kirp. What Can Stop Kids From Dropping Out
. New York Times
, May 1, 2016, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.