Friday, July 23, 2010

Rates of College Completion Drop

There was grim news from Washington yesterday about the rate at which American students complete college. A meeting convened by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center included release of the College Board's latest findings showing that the United States had dropped to 12th place among developed countries in the number of young adults with college degrees; it had once held the first place in this measure.

What is particularly disturbing is that the data on college enrollment differs so substantially from the actual numbers of students who graduate. Looking at all students who graduate from high school, close to 70 % enroll in a two or four year college program within two years. But when we look at what happens to these students, the story is very different. Approximately 57 % of students who matriculate in a four year college program graduate in six years. And for students who enroll in community colleges to work towards a two year degree, the completion rate after three years is less than 25 %. 

Economics plays a major role in the rates of completion. Students whose families are in the nation's highest income groups are more than 7 times likely to complete a four year degree by age 24 than those from the lowest income families. 

The report from the College Board group has a number of suggestions, but one in particular caught our eye. In 2007-08, the year from which their data was drawn, the average guidance counselor in U.S. high schools was working with 467 students. The American School Counselors Association recommends a maximum student to counselor ratio of 250 to 1. 

One issue that was not addressed in the report was the rate of college completion for students with learning differences, attention difficulties, and other issues that they must grapple with as they move on through college. These students can often be admitted to colleges but may lack the preparation and self advocacy skills to be successful. Families need to understand the issues these students face and prepare them for the next step in their education. They may find Life After High School: A Guide for Students with Disabilities and Their Families co-authored by our Director of Advocacy and Transition Services, Susan Yellin, Esq., a useful tool in this process.

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