Is college the best ticket to the middle class?
College readiness has become the cause célèbre for many education reformers and policy pundits. High-performing charter networks like KIPP and Achievement First chant the “college-ready” mantra to their students daily. Within his first six months in office, President Obama announced a desire to have 60 percent of young Americans be college educated. Yet a recent analysis by Complete College America finds that, despite valiant efforts to increase our college-enrollment rates (which have upped from 36 percent to 41 percent of young Americans over the past decade), our college-completion rates have stagnated—and are unacceptably low. In Texas, for example, 79 percent of public-college students enrolled at a community college—yet fewer than 5 percent of those individuals earned their associate degree on time. And the numbers for four-year colleges are no better: Only a quarter of Lone Star students enrolling in a bachelor’s program graduated in four years. Double that time frame and 60 percent of those who matriculated graduated. Better preparing students for the rigors of post-secondary academic work will do much to up these numbers. But these findings raise another important question: With this many college dropouts, are we right to pursue the “college for all” strategy singularly? Preparing students for trade programs and apprenticeships (or the military) may prove just as valuable to shoring up a strong middle class and giving decent futures to individuals. We suspect that many who were pushed into college, only to realize a year (and many dollars) later that it isn’t for them, might agree that “and career-readiness” is a worthy pursuit.
“College Graduation Rates Are Stagnant Even as Enrollment Rises, a Study Finds,” by Tamar Lewin, New York Times, September 27, 2011.
“Obama Urges Students to Set Their Sights on College,” by Mark Landler, September 28, 2011.Complete College America, “Time is the Enemy” (Complete College America, 2011).
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