mass higher ed and the dropout problem (too much math)

You can listen to the Leon Levy Lecture by Paul Attewell entitled Mass Higher Education and the Dropout Problem up at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. Attewell touches upon the US math-obsession (see list below, bold) deriving from devotion to the liberal arts core, not exactly what you would expect in a talk at the famous Institute, located on Einstein Drive.  Einstein, of course, would be pleased as he hated traditional pedagogy and rote schooling.
Paul Atewell, Leon Levy Foundation Member, School of Social Science. In the United States, ever-increasing proportions of high school graduates continue into college, and more and more undergraduates continue into master’s programs. One concern with educational expansion is that many students do not complete their degrees; they “drop out.” Some read this as proof that too many students are going to college, but other scholars argue that not enough Americans are receiving degrees. In this talk, Paul Attewell, Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, will consider the reasons behind the dropout phenomenon, examining individual factors but also highlighting government policies and institutional practices that undercut students’ progress toward graduation.
summary points (my transcription) 
Brief:  Entire structure of aid and services penalizes the working-class and aids affluent families

  • Financial aid favors traditional dependent students and penalizes working students 
  • Conclusion: Rethink curriculum, transfer and financial aid policies
  • Huge issue with tax rewards going to affluent parents paying for traditional students and penalizing students who work
  • The US is math obsessed and we require math for lots of degrees where it is totally unnecessary: math is required for every degree, even 2-year massage therapy degrees or medical transcription, unlike Europe where they do not require this. The speaker is emphatic at how unnecessary this is and how it accounts for endless remediation courses. He suggests it is an American cultural thing, an obsession we need to change.
  • In 2004 about 80% of high school grads go on to college, up from 50% in 1972; perhaps today about 86% will at some time go to college
  • Average time to a BA is 6.77 years and a mean age of 26, about 64% graduate after 6 years at 4-year institutions and less about 32% at 2-year institutions
  • Most BAs are transfers, 60%
  • Partial college completion does boost earnings and isn't worthless to students
  • Partial college completion happens when students get a good job through their study
  • Not all drop-outs are not all failure and ineptitude
  • The Expected Family Contribution isn't really useful and most kids do not get that help
  • Not all drop-outs are failures or inept; 41% of weak students in high school do get degrees
  • Inadequate financial aid is a huge factor in partial completion
  • Financial aid is awarded more generously to those who attend expensive institutions that those who attend less expensive institutions or community colleges
  • Moderate work helps graduation rates; excessive work hurts graduation
  • At community colleges, excessive work is the main cause of non-graduation
  • Too little aid goes to community college attendees
  • Giving more work-study aid to community college would boost grad rates
  • Most of the Federal work-study budget in the US goes to private colleges
  • Racial gaps are clearly present in the data and not accounted for by other factors
  • The Expected Family Contribution is not working: students are not getting it from their parents even when the EFC is low. The speaker suggests that many parents are giving some money but less than the Feds anticipate. Students themselves are working and choosing to pay and this affects
  • Over 20% of students cannot navigate the paperwork: it is far worse than taxes.
  • Paperwork needs parental input to complete and they may not have a good working relationship with family to get this information easily
  • One experiment paid to have FAFSA filed when taxes were done for low-income families, and a 20% jump in college attendance occurred.
  • The paperwork is so onerous that when the FAFSA was included with tax returns, a 20% jump in filing was achieved: people simply are too overworked and tired to cope with more paperwork, which after all is yet another filter that ensures those with more time and money get through
  • Students take a year off and work and that disqualifies them for aid the next year when they won't be working: aid is poorly done. Student earnings are penalized.
  • Students cycle in and out to work, work summers, come and go, working constantly and the system penalizes that even though we do not have free college as many industrialized countries do

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