College Success Advisers

Readers know that I am concerned about the low graduation rates that characterized almost all of our universities and colleges. The recent Brookings report on demographic changes across the country from 2000-2008 provides data that should worry all of us. In 2008 the proportion of 25-34 year olds with a four-year degree is less than that for 35-44 year olds.

At the very time that the economy is demanding more college grads, the college attainment rate is going down. Not good news either for the economic prospects of the Millennials or the American economy. The 25-34 year olds have a higher proportion that have some college, but no degree. So more are going to college, but fewer are graduating. We need to change that.

I wrote a series of previous posts on the need to demand of higher eduction the same kind of improved outcomes that we have of k-12 education. Those standards, combined with funding following the student, have helped create new schools are getting student outcomes that were thought impossible a decade ago.

One of the innovations that a few new high schools have adopted is taking responsibility for the graduates while they are in college. Two of them – including Ferndale’s University High School  which I am involved with – have hired college success advisers. A coach/counsellor that follows the student from high school to college. As the Free Press noted so far the advisers are helping get college retention rates that are far above that for students from urban high schools. (The article also includes a list of the graduation rates from our public universities.Take a look. Pretty depressing!)

As the article notes we are so pleased with the results we are going to require all the new high schools funded by Michigan Future Schools to have a college success adviser. But ultimately the only way these kind of supports can be provided at scale is when colleges and universities provide these services. The advisers provide the kind of support that universities provide to their scholarship athletes. The question we need to ask our colleges and universities is why aren’t they at least experimenting with this kind of support system for all students as a way of boosting graduation rates.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Looking forward to a presentation on the college success advisers to the leadership of Trillium Academy. We need to take this idea to scale.

  2. Lou,

    While I am sympathetic to your, and the countless other voices who continue to be critical of low post secondary graduation rates, I can tell you that for community colleges, this is essentially a meaningless measure of a college’s success. This is not to say that there aren’t a number of institutional and systemic problems that can be barriers to a student’s degree completion (lack of sufficient counseling, advising, tutoring, other “wrap around” services, etc), for the majority of community college students, graduation may not their primary objective. Nearly half of the students attending a communtiy college are transfer students, meaning they are there to collect credits to transfer to a 4-year institution and get a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s degree completion is not important to them. Another large portion of our students are in non credit certificate and occupational programs where their goal is to get a credential of value for the workplace, and this often does not include an associate’s degree. Still others are attending part-time, often having to work or deal with family issues, so the the 3 year time line for which they measure the “graduation rate” is simply unrealistic. Furthermore, there are many who have as a goal to be a nurse for example, but due to waiting lists, declare some other major (for financial aid) and then transfer to nursing once a slot opens up. They are counted as a “non completer” in thier original degree. Finally, community colleges serve literally thousands of students who take a few classes or programs simply to acquire a few necessary skills to make them more marketable, be better employees, get a promotion, find a new career, etc. who neither want or need a degree to be succesful. Community colleges get no credit for all of these students.

    The bottom line is that graduation rates are an awfully lousy measure by which to judge the performance of community colleges. Maybe our biggest shortcoming is that we have not been very good at figuring out a better one.

    1. Agreed 100%. We need a new system for measuring student success from higher education. We need a way of tracking students so that we know their outcomes from all the institutions they attend, not just at one school. And we need a way of measuring whether they get the set of skills they want – and not assume they all want a degree. Hopefully higher ed in Michigan will work to figure out such a system and not resist better accountability metrics. But, my guess is, if we can get a more accurate set of measures there will still be real gaps between what students want and what they achieve. And there I think we will find as we did with urban high schools that the key to getting better outcomes is new models of delivering teaching and learning.

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