Increasing College Graduation Rates
The need for an advanced education is becoming a more important part of everyday life and at an ever-increasing pace, reaching the graduation milestones gives people access to a better quality of life. They are more active citizens, live healthier lifestyles, are more active parents and increases the chance of families move up the socioeconomic ladder (Baum, Ma & Payea, 2013). At a glance, the overall graduation rate appears not bad: “About 59 percent of first-time, full-time students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2006 completed that degree within 6 years.” (National Center for Educational Research, 2014). On deeper inspection, it is those who need educational access the most who are the ones not graduating. The reasons for this are as individual as every student, but the general barriers of time, access and educational style disproportionately affect those least able to navigate a complex system that does not work well together and is not flexible enough to match the constantly changing needs of those it’s supposed to serve. A practical method of increasing college graduation rates would be to create a hybrid system that combines online education with the community and state college systems. This type of system would help students better manage the ever-changing variables of time, costs and academic needs.
With the constant change in work and life needs, current and future students need a more flexible educational system to accommodate the changing demands on a student’s time. Under the current system education happens on a schedule defined by the institution. If, for example, a student has the opportunity for an immediate career advancement but that opportunity conflicts with a schooling schedule the student is left with a disastrous choice between current and future needs. For the economically disadvantaged, these problems become even more magnified, bleeding over into quality of life decisions. Do the children of a student suffer if they lose the opportunity to partake in extra activities such as soccer gymnastics or music because a parent is afraid it may conflict with some future needed class? And why must this be so? There is little need for it at a time when high quality on-line curriculum not only exists but can be cheaper and more current than more traditional curriculum delivery systems.
These time issues would be challenging enough but they get added to public policy decisions that compound the issues. Even in places with a robust community college system, like California, the waiting lists for needed classes are causing immense problems for students. As Rivera discussed (2010) California has the nation’s largest community college system and it is expected to accept every student but in effect thousands are turned away because they can’t get the classes they need. Other students who hoped to attend full-time are either having to take classes at several campuses or just accept a part-time education. This is while other state educational facilities go largely unused during the summer months (Rivera, 2012) Not only do these problems create stress and frustration, increasing the chance of a student giving up, they extend the time required to complete an educational milestone allowing life events more opportunity to create barriers, this added time also adds to the cost barrier.
The average annual student budget can range from $16,325 for an in-district commuter at a public 2 year institution to $46,272 for a student at an on-campus, 4 year private non-profit University. (College Board, 2014) And these costs increase regularly. It is not difficult to imagine how a low income family can look at the figures and see them as insurmountable obstacles. Even if, through a combination of grants, loans, scholarships and even family fundraising, lower income families can make the budget work they are especially vulnerable to economic changes. A seemingly stable 9-5 warehouse or office job can easily turn into a lower paying sales clerk or unemployment with little notice. The economic uncertainty of their financial situation makes their ability to sustain the financial commitment for 4-6 years vulnerable. These families are far less likely to invest in a system that is costly, slow and inflexible in meeting a wide variety of academic needs.
Not all students have an easy time through the education system, the reasons for this are as varied as the individual student. Culture clashes, social disorders and learning disabilities are just a few of the potential issues these students face. Then they are faced with a system that isn’t designed for their individual needs. Online school is always open, so, for example, if a student needs a mentor, the student can meet with their mentor at any time easily and get help when they need it. The student would not have to wait for an appointment and won’t have to drive somewhere at an inconvenient time and place.
Students who are trying to get their education can get it without having to be stuck with having to make compromises all the time. If you have to take care of your child or you’re sick, you’re stuck in the traditional system. Your job has to work around classes, causing people to lose pay or opportunities for advancement and sometimes it even costs them their job. If they had a composite learning system they could work around these limitations. The classes should work for people’s schedules, not the other way around. It’s all system focused, not student focused. It is understood how the system has evolved. In the past education moved slowly, buildings, materials, books, and staff, are expensive. Schools were a centralized location to gather the physical resources needed for a complete education.
The solutions to the problem of increasing graduation rates already exist in the world around us. By combining the speed and economic efficiency of on-line education with the physical resources of our community colleges and state universities coherent system can be created. High quality on-line education can be used for students with time or travel constraints and for classes that students are comfortable with self-learning. Then for subjects that a student needs more guidance or attention they can access the community college, or even state university facilities. This saves the student both time and money by minimizing time and maximizing flexibility. Because of reduce pressure on the physical system the community colleges will be able to shift resources and offer testing, mentoring services, lectures, lab work, and even a study hall where all students can gather, including online students, for academic help and a sense of community. This also maintains the currents system for those subjects that require a physical presence or for students that prefer a more traditional setting. The acquisition of knowledge doesn’t have to be the same experience it used to be it is time the educational system has caught up with the rest of the world.
Baum, S., Ma, J., & Payea, K. (2013). Education pays 2013: The benefits of higher education for individuals and society. College Board. College Board. (2014). Trends in college pricing 2014 – Final report. College board. National Center for Educational statistics (2014). Institutional Retention and Graduation Rates for Undergraduate Students. Retrieved November 10, 2014, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cva.asp Rivera, C (2012, May 28). College summer school in California largely a thing of the past: Column. Retrieved November 6, 2014, from http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/28/local/la-me-adv-college-summer-20120527 Rivera, C (2010, October 4). Community college class wait lists throw a wrench into students’ plans. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from http://articles.latimes.com/2010/oct/04/local/la-me-college-classes-20101004