The truth about graduation rates

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You never know what will interest people.


As I write this (Sept. 13), the second-most-commented-on article in The Augusta Chronicle online is the one about the graduation rate at Augusta State University. That was the front-page piece titled "ASU grad rate worst in Georgia" - a statement that was corrected by the paper the next day - and then became the subject of the "Graduation daze" editorial.


As president of the university, I'm pleased to see this much attention to our students and their academic performance. In fact, the only other article to receive more comment by readers is one entitled "Talkative parrot Booger Bear keeps family entertained." In terms of public interest, ASU is in high company.


And both the article and the editorial are worth reading because they point out some serious challenges to educational attainment in our community, and in our nation - a matter to which I'll return.


But some explanation and comments about graduation rates might be in order first.

To begin with, as both Chronicle pieces suggest, the graduation rate at a university is hardly a good measure of its performance. What counts is learning, which is produced by high expectations of students. What graduation should mean - and does mean at ASU - is that students have earned the honor by achieving a high level of learning. After all, colleges and universities are called institutions of "higher learning."


If higher graduation rates were the primary measure, they could be achieved by one or both of two easy ways, the first being a dramatic increase in the standards of admission. That would also produce far fewer students overall and, almost certainly, a higher percentage of students from wealthy backgrounds (because family wealth is one of the best statistical predictors of academic success).


The other easy way is to make college easier. The side effect, of course, would be a serious devaluation of the college degree and the emergence of an institution of lower learning.

There are ways to improve graduation rates that are not easy - and we're actually doing them. In fact, we've always been doing them, and are always looking to do them even better. These include advising, mentoring and the engaging of students in university activities beyond the classroom. But the most important way to improve graduation rates is our focus on student learning itself. We do other things as well, including service and research, but almost everything feeds back into student learning.


On this topic, Chronicle readers might want to note the extraordinary performance of our students (actually "best in class" among our institutional peers) on the state-mandated Regents' Examination in reading comprehension and written composition as well as high scores on licensure exams.


But readers should understand that institutions where very high percentages of students live at home will always have lower graduation rates than those where most of the students have "gone off" to college. At ASU, it is easy for full-time students to become part-time students, remain psychologically connected to the university even during semesters when they "stop out," and take more years to earn degrees than do students who go to college away from home.

The largest issue behind these matters is how to improve educational attainment. Neither here nor in the nation as a whole is there much to brag about on this issue. I've seen statistics pointing out that more than 20 other industrialized nations show greater progress in upping their college attainments. In communities such as Augusta, where large numbers of potential college students come from low-income families with little family experience in college, getting a college education is far from guaranteed - and this matter should be of concern to us all. The correlation between high educational attainment and quality of life in a community is undeniable.


ASU is on the front lines in attacking this issue. We offer the opportunity of college broadly to this community. We assist all who qualify and seek to take advantage of that opportunity. We make sure that an ASU degree certifies "higher education."


And in doing so, I think we add extraordinary value to this community. Perhaps that's what all the interest in the "grad rate" items in The Chronicle really means.

The writer became president of Augusta State University in October 1993.

Comments (13) Add comment
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SoWhat
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SoWhat 09/16/07 - 09:26 am
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A lot of people take "one"

A lot of people take "one" class at Augusta Tech to learn a skill to enhance their lives. Their intention is not to get a degree but to acquire a skill that they can apply to their everyday life such as use of computer or gardening skills. These people are NOT drop-outs.

SoWhat
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SoWhat 09/16/07 - 09:27 am
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And the above applies to

And the above applies to Augusta State.

jack
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jack 09/16/07 - 12:26 pm
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Boogey, I suppose that

Boogey, I suppose that applying the same comment about AT to ASU, you mean there are students who just go to ASU to take some class to obtain a skill they need. This is NOT the purpose of ASU or any other college or university, and i do not believe that those attending for speicifc classes (other than continuing education classes), to obtain some special knowledge or skill vice a degree, is a very, very small minority.

jack
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jack 09/16/07 - 12:28 pm
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My problem with ASU is the

My problem with ASU is the low entrance requirements they have. If you can't score high on math and english on the entrance exams, you should NOT get into a college or university. A community college is where you need to go to improve those skill then transfer to a four year school. However, I believe ASU makes a small fortune teaching rmemdial courses in math and especially English.

gcap
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gcap 09/16/07 - 02:33 pm
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If anything, the standards

If anything, the standards for ASU should be raised and admission harder to achieve. Our country continues to go downhill because we're letting educational standards become lower. When I attended ASU (then Augusta College) in the late 1970s, English 101 at AC was the standard for the state. Math was tough. History was very thorough. Professors had high expectations. Nowadays, schools are adjusting their standards for students. Students should prepare for college. Is that happening in our area? No way. And at the bottom of the educational ladder is the Richmond County Board of Education. Don't blame ASU.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 09/16/07 - 02:57 pm
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Bloodworth says in the above

Bloodworth says in the above article, "If higher graduation rates were the primary measure, they could be achieved by one or both of two easy ways, the first being a dramatic increase in the standards of admission. That would also produce far fewer students overall and, almost certainly, a higher percentage of students from wealthy backgrounds (because family wealth is one of the best statistical predictors of academic success)." He is being a bit of a demogogue, making the idea of serving "the wealthy" seem dirty. But remember he will have nothing to do with raising entrance standards because it will lower the number of students and the dollars that come with them. Higher education is an industry, and growing their customer base is their most successful strategy.

Answer
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Answer 09/16/07 - 03:07 pm
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Having taken a class here and

Having taken a class here and there at ASU to help suplement my undergraduate curriculum during summer semester, I can tell you that the problem is not whether ASU is tough enough. I received my undergrad from Georgia Tech and I am working on my Graduate degree at Valdosta State. The problem with ASU is the attitude of the staff and faculty. There is no academic partnership between the administration and the students. The student is treated as if they are priveledged to be allowed on the campus. It is impossible to transfer your credits, and there is no sense of customer service. It is the only campus I have taken classes on where students were treated as if they did not have a place there. If ASU does not step out of its 1950 model of postsecondary education, and find some flexibility, customer service, and nontraditional approach to education, it will become the dinosaur of the College and University System of Georgia. It's time to step outside the bubble of Augusta and find a competitive vision for ASU. I would begin by recruiting some diversity into your faculty and busting up the paradigm.

BakersfieldCityLimits
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BakersfieldCityLimits 09/16/07 - 08:33 pm
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Perhaps an Urban Afro-centric

Perhaps an Urban Afro-centric department could be started, there would be a more diverse and represenative student body.

SANTA CLAUS JR
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SANTA CLAUS JR 09/16/07 - 09:55 pm
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the football team hasn't ever

the football team hasn't ever won a game.

bone
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bone 09/16/07 - 10:26 pm
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yes, i imagine the Urban

yes, i imagine the Urban Afro-centric department would be diverse. with a name like Afro-centric, how could it possibly cater to one race over another? wait...

bone
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bone 09/16/07 - 10:30 pm
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honestly, though, i took a

honestly, though, i took a few classes at ASU and will not be taking any more. ??? is dead right: the inflexibility of ASU in dealing with non-traditional students has caused cottage-industry schools to thrive. maybe ASU only wants the students not accepted at UGA or USC-Aiken - but there are many more adult learners they are missing who have heard the reputation of ASU and stayed away.

Little Mickey
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Little Mickey 09/17/07 - 01:45 pm
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The great thing about America

The great thing about America is that we give people a chance. There is no University System of Georgia two-year school (community college) in this area -- Augusta State serves the population that would have met the USG 2 year institution admissions requirement, but not the 4 year requirements. For local citizens, for whatever reason, who want to go to a "local" USG institution, ASU is here to serve their need. Let's not be quick to decide who should or should not have an opportunity for a education. The more educated the citizens are in an area, the better for all.

Answer
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Answer 09/17/07 - 09:17 pm
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Why does diversity in Augusta

Why does diversity in Augusta always = black or white? How about someone who has taught somewhere beside ASU.

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