(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
On May 1st, the Arizona Senate Higher Education committee held a hearing on the university “stimulus plan.” The idea is to have the state borrow $1.4 billion to build new buildings on the state’s three public universities. Governor Napolitano, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Arizona State University President Michael Crow all spoke in favor. One thematic message: this borrowing can more than pay for itself by increasing the percentage of Arizona workers with a college degree.
Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman stole the show, noting that ASU students have a high per capita beer consumption rate, providing an economic stimulus to Tempe.
Hallman’s observation however might help to explain graduation rates. Don’t get me wrong- I drank my share of beer as an undergraduate. Someone else’s too. Nevertheless, I managed to graduate in 4 years, something 73 percent of ASU students fail to do. Education Trust rated Arizona State University against 7 similar peer institutions and found Arizona State had the lowest 6-year graduation rate of the bunch.
If we did need additional graduates, more focus on absurdly low graduation rates could do the trick. A fraction of the eighty million dollars a year in debt service would pay for a tremendous amount of financial aid, tutoring, and even the additional course offerings that some students might need to graduate on time. I’ve yet to hear the sad story of the student who dropped out for lack of fancy new facilities.
However, it is far from obvious that the state “needs” additional college graduates, given that many graduates currently work in jobs which do not require degrees.
This begs the question: do Arizona universities need new buildings, or new priorities?
Wow, I didn’t know that 73% of ASU students don’t graduate in 4 years. Is this including statistics from freshmen drop outs and transfers?
The Education Trust’s description of how they calculate their grad rate is here:
From the description, it looks like students who transfer to other colleges would be part of the 73 percent figure. So if it included only bona fide dropouts it would be lower.
On the other hand, schools are allowed to exclude (i.e. not count as dropouts) students who leave school for various specific reasons such as serving in the armed forces.
Another point to note is that ASU has the lowest or next to lowest graduation rate (depending on whether you look at four-year or six-year rates) of all comparable institutions in the Education Trust data. Clearly dropouts are a serious problem at ASU regardless of how many of those 73 percent are bona fide dropouts.
Calculating an accurate dropout rate in the absence of reliable information is of course a very tricky business, and I suspect these Education Trust figures are the closest thing we have to a good measurement.