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Making the case for mandatory college graduation

Jayne Matthews Hopson | 10/24/2014, 6 a.m.
After the housing industry, American’s colleges and universities are collectively the country’s second largest business. A closer look behind higher ...

After the housing industry, American’s colleges and universities are collectively the country’s second largest business. A closer look behind higher education’s ivy-covered walls reveals how colleges are kept afloat by practices as mercenary as housing’s sub-prime lending practices that nearly destroyed the US economy in 2008.

Like virtually all profit making organizations, colleges rely upon selective, sometimes deceptive marketing methods to bolster the value and prestige of degrees earned by students who complete their studies in 4 years. The operative word is “complete” because from the student’s point of view completion, not acceptance is what should drive the decision to select a college.

Each year US News and World Report, which calls itself the “nation’s leading news service provider of information that improves the quality of life of its readers” publishes a number of ratings that purports to rank the best American colleges.

The popularity of the online magazine’s rankings is undisputed. The first day its 2014 report was released brought a whopping 2.6 million unique visitors to its website and 18.9 million page views in a single day. Families wrestling with finding a college that best meets their child’s academic needs and aspirations should be aware this report may not be as impartial as it appears.

For example, colleges routinely use acceptance rates to drive up their ranking and impress upon the public the value of a degree earned from its institution. The clear message to prospective families is, many apply, but only accept a select few are accepted. According to the US News and World Report Stanford is America’s most selective college. For every 100 students who apply only 5.7 are offered acceptance, statistically speaking. Harvard comes in a close second at 5.8, Columbia and Yale are tied at 6.9 each and Princeton rounds out the top five with a 7.4 acceptance rate.

But, what is ROI (return on investment) for low acceptance rates? This kind of ranking is a ruthless way to distract attention away from its dismal back end statistics. Colleges know the same parents seeking to bask in the glow of their child gaining admission to a highly selective, cream of the crop school, would be put off by its low graduation rates. In my opinion the most impressive ranking is a list of colleges with highest 4 year graduation rate. This ranking is conspicuously absent from the report’s main pages; it is only found by a key words web search.

Apparently, there is no evidence exclusive acceptance has any value other than bragging rights that your kid got in a “good” school. Need proof there is no correlation between selective acceptance and actually earning a degree? Only one college (Columbia) ranked the third most selective university is the only school in the top 25 ranking of schools with the highest 4 year graduation rates. Acceptance is a necessary first step, but the bottom line is no school grants degrees just for gaining admittance.

If you are planning to send your child to a state college you may think these practices do affect your family? You would be mistaken. The disparity between college acceptance and graduation rates exposes one of higher education's shadiest practices. To increase revenue all colleges artificially brandish their academic standing by routinely promoting a useless, misleading measure of success: a low, exclusive acceptance rate instead of the truest indicator value of its degrees, the 4 year graduation rate.