A puzzle surrounds the static percentage of college completion despite burgeoning college enrollment in the past 20 years. In our book, From High School to College, Andrea Venezia and I speculated about how college non-completion was caused by different factors such as preparedness, cost, time management, personal commitment and so on. We know a lot of non-completion is caused by a lack of preparation, but how much? No one knows this, but there is an interesting new study on college costs by the Advisory Commission on Student Financial Assistance, a nonpartisan panel that advises Congress. They concluded that in the 1990s between 800,000 and 1.6 million low and moderate high school students who were both academically qualified for and intent on attending a four year college did not earn a bachelor’s degree. Note the study tried to include only students who were well prepared. All of the students in the study completed algebra II or trigonometry. These mathematics courses are crucial predictors of college completion in studies by Clifford Adelman, formerly with the U.S. Department of Education. Moreover, all the students in 10th and 12th grade planned to get a bachelor’s degree.
. Even though students fail to move through the higher education system for many reasons, this study includes only students for whom finances were the deciding factor in not getting a 4 year degree.
I am not sure this study controls for all factors that cause non-completion, but inadequate finance is clearly a major factor. Now we need a study that examines how many students do not get degrees because of inadequate academic preparation. This also will be hard to measure precisely because student commitment to study and persevere is also an important factor in college completion. Subsequent blog entries will discuss even more factors that make up the puzzle of college completion.