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America Fails in College


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  • America Fails in College


    Report says America lags in turning out college grads

    Findings show deficit compared with other nations.


    The Kansas City Star

    Young Americans trail their counterparts from other nations when it comes to college enrollment and completion rates, according to a national report card on higher education released today.
    Belgium, Japan, Sweden and Korea are among countries beating the United States on both fronts.
    The biennial report, Measuring Up 2006, is the fourth by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which usually compares states’ track records in higher education.
    For the first time, however, the nonprofit, nonpartisan, San Jose, Calif.-based organization has compared how well America is doing at turning out college graduates, compared with other countries.
    The findings suggest that if the United States continues to lag in turning out college graduates, the pool of workers to replace retiring baby boomers is likely to be composed primarily of young adults without a college education.
    “That means that in the future, important goods and services that need a very skilled and intelligent work force will not be able to be produced in the U.S., and we would have to go out and hire young people in other countries,” said Martha Ozawa, a distinguished professor of social policy at Washington University in St. Louis.
    While the United States still leads most of the world in the proportion of its citizens from 35 to 64 with college degrees, the country currently is seventh among the 27 nations in the study when it comes to educational attainment and completion of college degrees for 25- to 34-year-olds.
    The United States ranked fifth in the percentage of young adults from 18 to 24 who participated in college but ranked 16th out of 27 nations in the number of students in that age bracket who completed college. Japan topped that list, followed by Portugal and the United Kingdom.
    “We don’t want to be in a position of losing a national competitive advantage,” said University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway. “The best way we can be competitive is to start educating a greater proportion of our 18- to 24-year-old students.”
    He suggested that students not enrolling or not finishing were those who could not afford high tuition. Hemenway said KU has been able to increase the number of low-income students on its campus by taking 20 percent of the tuition increase each of the last five years and putting it into need-based scholarships.
    But the report card indicates that overall, America does not fare well when compared with other countries in increasing college-participation rates. The United States ranked last among 14 nations compared in raising college-participation rates. Report compilers said the United States showed nearly no growth in that area during the 1990s and so far this decade.
    The report attributes the lack of growth to eroding college affordability for middle- and low-income families. That is evident by the increase in student debt and declining high school graduation rates.
    Chances are less than 40 percent in this country that a ninth-grader will enroll in college four years later. On the other hand, the report said those who did graduate from high school were more likely to attend college.
    The problem is that too many students are not staying to earn college degrees. One is Kwame Turner, 19, who learned this summer he could not enroll for his senior year at the University of Missouri-Kansas City until he paid off a $21,000 tuition debt to UMKC. Turner, who is a first-generation college student from a low-income family near St. Louis, said he would have to work for years at a low-paying job to pay the university before he could re-enroll.
    “I have all this education, but it isn’t doing me any good now because I have no degree to go with it. It seems like it was all just a waste of money and time.”
    Even among the states that performed the best in college completion, less than 70 percent of students at four-year institutions finished a bachelor’s degree within six years.
    University of Missouri-Columbia Chancellor Brady Deaton called the numbers astounding.
    “What this says to us in the U.S. is we need to wake up. Let’s get busy,” he said. “Our students must be prepared to compete effectively.”
    Seeing that a college education is accessible to a broad spectrum of the population “strengthens our competitiveness economically,” Deaton said. “We have to address this access issue.”
    MU is doing its part, he said, by working closely with community colleges and school districts. MU also is making an effort to increase its need-based scholarships, and since 2000 has added more than 400 endowed scholarships, many for students from low-income households.
    Among the states, Georgia is doing the best at seeing that its students earn degrees.
    The report card grades each state in six performance areas: preparation; participation; affordability; completion; economic benefit to the state; and learning.
    As far as preparing students to enter college, Kansas received a B minus and Missouri a C. Both states went up a letter grade from 2004 — Kansas to an A and Missouri a B — in the percentage of young adults who participated in college. Both states got B pluses for the number of college students who earned degrees. In Missouri and Kansas, only 18 of every 100 students enrolled in college complete a degree, which lags behind nations such as Korea and Portugal, the report said.
    Missouri was highlighted along with nine other states for doing a good job measuring the performance of their graduates from four-year institutions. One way researchers measured how much college graduates learned was by reviewing results of post-graduate tests taken for professional licensing or certification in each state.
    Missouri was one of seven states cited for improvement in increasing the percentage of adult residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher — from 23 percent to 31 percent since the early 1990s.
    But like most other states, Kansas and Missouri got failing grades for college affordability. Nationally, the cost of college consumes 73 percent of family income for the nation’s poorest households and 23 percent for those in the middle-income bracket, according to a different report — the Project on Student Debt.
    The Project on Student Debt, which came out last month, revealed that in 10 years, the average loan debt for graduating seniors has more than doubled, from $9,250 to $19,200. The average debt of 2005 graduates in Missouri was $16,505; in Kansas it was $16,753.
    Checking the report card
    Here are the grades from Measuring Up 2006. An “I” for learning indicates an incomplete, meaning information was unavailable to measure how much students learned in college. A “plus” indicates the information was available. Only nine states, including Missouri, received a plus.

    Preparation B-
    Participation A
    Affordability F
    Completion B+
    Benefits B+
    Learning I

    Preparation C
    Participation B
    Affordability F
    Completion B+
    Benefits A

    LearningPlusSource: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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