Retention, graduation vital to economy

A new series of figures from the National Survey of Student Engagement claims that students fail to graduate because they may not feel challenged enough in their classes.’

The statistics cited in the original studies show students in more challenging and prestigious institutions have higher graduation rates. Those with SAT scores of 1,200 or more are 30 percent more likely to graduate than those with SAT scores below 1,000.’ The concern on higher education is no longer exclusively focused on getting people into college – it’s about keeping them there until graduation. ‘

Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities by William Bowen, Matthew Chingos and Michael McPherson focuses on the declining rate of college graduates in the US.’

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, clearly framed the education question in his remarks at Harvard University’s class day in 2008.’

‘As Adam Smith pointed out in 1776, ‘In the long run, more than any other factor, the productivity of the workforce determines a nation’s standard of living,” Bernanke said. ‘

He then went on to link economic health and growth with the education of American workers.

‘In the long term, however, the best way by far to improve economic opportunity and to reduce inequality is to increase the educational attainment and skills of American workers,’ Bernanke said.’

‘The productivity surge in the decades after World War II corresponded to a period in which educational attainment was increasing rapidly; in recent decades, progress on that front has been far slower.’

‘ Education and economic health are inextricably linked in the U.S., and have been since the birth of our higher education institutions.

In the current recession, it is expected that we seek to bolster the economy and stabilize American growth through education. ‘

The biggest issue addressed in Crossing is the decline of graduation rates, which plateaued in the late ’90s after a steady growth since the mid ’40s.’

‘The 2006 higher education rate for 25 to 34-year-olds in the United States is nearly identical to that of 55-64 year olds,’ Bowen, Chingos and McPherson said in Crossing, citing a 2008 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report.

Chalking slowing graduation rates up to a lack of motivation or challenge seems simplistic in the face of the overwhelming change in lifestyle and the economics of higher education. ‘

‘A student with a stellar academic record in high school attending a third-rate school most likely comes from a family with limited financial means,’ Zac Bissonette writes on Walletpop.com.’

‘So this data corrects for one glaring selection bias problem (highly selective colleges attract students who are unlikely to dropout) but exacerbates another one: What kind of students are most likely to attend schools two or three tiers below the ones they could get into?’ Bissonette said.’

Financial considerations are crucial for those entering college and are highly influential in the decision on whether to continue.’ UH’s own guaranteed tuition rate element in the SGA’s Five Point Plan attempted to address the issue of rising tuition.’ However, not even a tuition freeze can compete with job loss in a sluggish economy.’ ‘

The simple truth is that more prestigious institutions have more money to dedicate to retention and financial aid. ‘

Students attending more prestigious universities have an easier time getting aid and are likely to have families who place a higher priority on education and therefore support them beyond what many others are able or willing to do throughout the educational experience. ‘

This would establish a climate within the home for greater accomplishment as well as economic support during college.’

Take the simple comparison between Rice University and UH. Although annual tuition at Rice is $30,486, massively higher than UH’s $6,658, 99 percent of its students attend full time, 84 percent receive aid, and 97 percent of full-time students graduate.’ Of the one percent part-time students, Rice graduates 100 percent. ‘

At UH, 73 percent of students receive aid, 72 percent are full-time students and 79 percent of full-time students graduate.’ Of the part-time students, 58 percent graduate. ‘

There is also telling data in the class ratio.’ Student to teacher ratio at Rice is 8:1, at UH it’s 26:1. ‘

Most of these figures reassert what has become common knowledge: money matters in education. ‘

The new education bill would mitigate some of the purely economic issues by eliminating banking middlemen from the financial aid equation. ‘

‘It would cancel about $9 billion in annual government subsidies for banks that lend to college students and use much of the money to increase financial aid,’ David Leonhardt said in the New York Times on Sept. 8. ‘A small portion of the money would be set aside for promising pilot programs aimed at lifting the number of college graduates.” ‘

Issues of motivation, challenge and engagement are more nebulous, but can be mitigated by students and faculty at educational institutions. ‘

We’ve all heard the advice before: talk to your professors, go to class, talk about your classwork and do the reading. ‘

Engagement in the work shows in the grades, which in turn helps with financial aid through scholarships and grants.’ It helps keep the fire in the belly burning even when your wallet is slim.

Shai Mohammed is an anthropology and communication sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]

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