Scary Numbers on College Spending and Results

In contemporary academic life, there are some things I have found to be completely predictable. One of these is the annual urging of faculty by administrators to help the school retain students. On my campus there is a “Director of Student Success” whose sole purpose is to persuade students not to drop out of school after their first semester or two. For a few years I wondered if this is because of some unique problem we have with student retention, but apparently it is not. A recent study from the American Institutes of Research has found that retention is a problem everywhere and that huge amounts of money are being wasted on student dropouts.

The bottom line is that state and federal governments have given billions of dollars in grants to students who drop out of college after one year or less. (30% of all incoming freshmen will be gone in a year.) This study only includes four-year colleges; the numbers would undoubtedly be much worse if community colleges were taken into account. Only 60% of students entering a “four-year” college will graduate within SIX years.

We obviously have some serious problems in our system. According to this Bureau of Labor Statistics report, college students spend more time in an average weekday on sports and recreation than on academic endeavors. No wonder so many people are failing to graduate in a reasonable length of time!

You can find more discussion of waste in education subsidies here.


About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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2 Responses to Scary Numbers on College Spending and Results

  1. Timothy Terrell says:

    The 4-year private liberal arts college where I have taught for 10 years has no major retention problem, as far as I can tell. We’re not urged to “retain” students. But I do see that this could be a serious problem for other places. In my view some schools, particularly some of the mostly-online and night school operations, have become little more than scams, aimed at giving students a crack at certain subsidized loans or some kind of “automatic” raise that their bureaucratized large employers provide to people with advanced degrees. Maybe retention is a problem mostly where student body cohesiveness is almost nonexistent, and where some students figure out the near-uselessness of the degree in time to exit.

    One thing that bothers me about some of these programs is that some of the students get the idea that they’re really “educated” with their online B.A. or MBA or M.Ed. in hand. It’s “degree inflation,” and I think when the subsidies eventually end in higher education, the reputation of the degree-granting institution is going to count for a lot more than it now does, much more than the string of letters after the person’s name. There are MBAs out there who can’t write a grammatically correct sentence to save their lives.

    It does puzzle me why places that have reasonable reputations still have a retention problem. It would seem that the subsidies could only explain a part of this. And it seems that retention would be less of a problem when the economy is bad.

    • Dr. J says:

      It’s possible that Wofford has a reliable constituency that provides a steady stream of students. In our case, the recent introduction of new athletic programs that recruit academically marginal students and aggressive marketing to locals who are not part of the school’s traditional constituency have led to a lot more transience in our student population. My reading of the study was that its argument is not that subsidies are cause of the dropouts, but that given the dropout rates, the subsidies are a big waste.

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