Last week, I explained Johns Hopkins University’s work on “dropout factories,” public schools where 60 percent or fewer students graduate on time. Under this definition, all of Arizona’s community colleges qualify as dropout factories, even if you consider their graduation rates after three years instead of two. I received an avalanche of email in response.
Several people objected to the data, noting that many people take a community college course for various reasons – like receiving a certification or for personal betterment – but have no intention of graduating. This is true. But the federal data that I reviewed only tracks the academic progress of students enrolling in a fall semester as full-time students. Casual course takers are not counted in the calculation of dropout rates.
A number of readers also noted that students sometimes enroll in community colleges but transfer to a university and graduate from the four-year institution. This is also true. In Arizona, however, all three of our public universities are also dropout factories – with on-time graduation rates below 35 percent. While some community college students do transfer to universities and graduate on time, I haven’t seen data that show they are doing so in large numbers.
The bottom line is that our taxpayer-funded higher education system needs to do a much better job of matching students to institutions that meet their level of academic preparation. To do this, both community colleges and universities should raise their admission standards in concert and refocus their efforts on their core academic mission.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Community colleges have administrative bloat and low graduation rates