Colleges Can Game The College Completion Pressure

July 27th, 2011

By Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute/EPI International

With the push for 20 million more college graduates in America, there is increasing pressure on institutions to produce more degrees. As one might surmise, this is producing a “gaming” situation, where not all degrees will be alike.

First is the proposal from some to give anyone who has 120 credits, regardless of what credits they are, a bachelor’s degree. Second is the use of dual enrollment courses to give students college credit while in high school, with the goal of getting an associate’s degree very quickly.

While both arguments can be made, and while they would increase the number of “college graduates,” it certainly doesn’t do anything tangible to help the economy.

With regard to the former, a collection of credits for a bachelor’s program can be somewhat meaningless for the development of knowledge and expertise. If those credits have close enough academic links, then fine. But in many cases, perhaps most, they may be nothing more than a collection of “seat time” credits. That doesn’t make us more competitive. It just means we conferred more degrees.

Dual credit or enrollment is a more concerning issue. The issue of joint high school/college courses is puzzling. At the Advanced Placement level, I get that, because if students can take relatively high-end introductory college courses (e.g., Calculus A/B) in place of other high school courses, fine. But dual credit is not the same as AP. Dual credit is typically more common, lower-level courses, which begs this question: if students are able to take these college-level courses in high school, what does that say about the high school curriculum? Why have it at all?

If students can take dual credit courses and high schools can very conveniently show that they have matriculated more college graduates through, arguably, watered down dual credit offerings, what have we accomplished?

This conversation says two things: first, we must be very careful and mindful of public policy that introduces a gaming atmosphere into play. And second, we have to seriously think of what our high school curriculum is if we can just exchange college courses for it without too much thought. Perhaps high school, as we know it, is now completely antiquated? (it is definitely antiquated, but completely?)


6 Responses

  1. Dennis Ashendorf says:

    Mr. Swall raises many issues in discussing dual-enrollment. I’ll point out two. First, dual-enrollment allows students to game because grade points are often boosted by 1 when taking a college course; even if it’s an easy one. This builds up averages. This is rationalized because it introduces students to college life. I’m not sure this is true. Second, in California, students can graduate at 16 after their 10th grade year by taking the CHSPE (see for unofficial details). The idea is that they would then start community college. However, with classes overbooked, this isn’t a great idea in this economy.

    To put the question on antiquated curriculum in different terms. We could stress mastery learning for each topic strand through 10th grade. Afterword, real electives and/or hard college prep classes would be offered. By the way, don’t confuse the curriculum with the delivery system. Also, the United States doesn’t take CURRICULUM seriously. We take standards and assessment seriously. There’s a big difference. See Core Knowledge.

  2. What is a degree? It is not merely going to school taking courses, taking many many credits. It is not on the number but the quality of what the students have learned. They may say he/she did graduate but it doesn’t mean he/she could help the economy, it is how they take college seriously and if they are mature, and would understand what is needed for the economy. I think it is easy just to produce college graduates but will they remain?

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  3. Majalah says:

    I’m agree with previous comment. We need more quality not quantity what student have. It’s good to have high degree but it’s more important being a person who give a value to society

  4. […] More Education August 1, 2011 — Veronica Van Ry Under pressure to award more degrees, colleges may lower standards to pump up graduation numbers, warns Watson Scott Swail of Educational Policy Institute on College […]

  5. Rozsa Gyene says:

    I believe that Advanced placement classes are great. The student not only has to get a good grade in the class but pass the AP test as well. It really helped my son. It’s getting harder to finish your bachelors degree in four years, and taking some AP classes to college helps a lot. And it’s much cheaper too. I hope they will never stop offering AP classes.

  6. Eva Jeney says:


    I am a college student and I love AP classes. They are much harder than regular classes and you have to take and pass the AP test too. When I started college I took 24 units from my high school. Awesome.

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