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The Old College Try: Keep An Eye on Graduation Rates

Updated: Apr 13

A report this week in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette pointed to the steady growth in Arkansas college enrollment, which this year marks an increase of 2.1 percent. That’s a drop from the 2010 growth rate, which clocked in at 5.1 percent this time last year.

But enrollments are only a part of the story, and this report released last week by Complete College America, “Time is the Enemy,” lays out the ugly details. Looking at data from 33 states, the researchers find that there’s little comprehensive sense of just what’s happening to students after they enroll.

Older non-traditional students and part-timers, especially, now comprise a majority of the student body, the report states, yet they tend to be overlooked in studies:

These historic data have revealed a common thread—and an animating principle to guide our work to boost college graduation: The longer it takes, the more life gets in the way of success… …As the clock runs and the calendar turns, we all know what happens: Students’ lives fill up with jobs, relationships, marriages, children and mortgages; the list goes on and on. No surprisingly, college often gets left behind:  a few years of courses, no degree, and a lot of debt.

To take just a couple of data points in Arkansas, for students seeking a bachelor’s degree, 38.4 percent of full-time students complete their degree within six years. For part-time students, only 8.2 percent finish in six years. “Almost no one over the age of 25 graduates,” the report states.

Check out the full report, which was funded with a gigantic pile of money from the Gates Foundation and other deep pockets types, for your light weekend reading. It’s worth pondering as the Arkansas lottery scholarship program affords more students college opportunities, and as more and more observers wonder, “Is higher education a bubble that’s about to burst?” To which the answer, is “Yeah, probably.”

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