• November 1, 2014

How Do You Build the Best-Educated Country?

Persuading people in towns like Dyersburg, Tenn., could be key

Ambitious College-Completion Goals Will Hinge on Rural Regions Like Dyersburg, Tenn. 1

Photographs by Trey Clark for The Chronicle

At Dyersburg State Community College, 80 percent of students need remedial help.

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close Ambitious College-Completion Goals Will Hinge on Rural Regions Like Dyersburg, Tenn. 1

Photographs by Trey Clark for The Chronicle

At Dyersburg State Community College, 80 percent of students need remedial help.

A few weeks ago, Andrea Franckowiak's phone rang, and Ginger, a former student, was on the other line. She'd called to say thank you.

Ms. Franckowiak, an associate professor of writing at Dyersburg State Community College, in western Tennessee, remembered Ginger well. At a college where four out of five students need at least one remedial class before beginning college-level work, Ginger had struggled more than most. It took her six semesters to pass the college's remedial writing course and move on to Composition I.

But she eventually passed, and as she told her former professor, she went on to get a bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Replicating successes like Ginger's many times over is necessary if the United States has any hope of meeting President Obama's goal of becoming the world's best-educated country by 2020. Meeting that goal will also hinge on changing attitudes in states like Tennessee, which has long ranked among the lowest in the nation in the proportion of residents with a college degree, and in places like Dyersburg, a former factory town where educators often struggle to persuade residents that a college degree is no longer a luxury.

Even as state leaders in Tennessee and elsewhere agree on emphasizing the goal of getting more people through college, some college officials question the proposed solutions and whether the emphasis on graduating more people on time is the right measure of success.

"Why is it because you graduate, you're productive?" asked Jane Theiling, director of Dyersburg State's developmental-studies program, and the college's mathematics coordinator. "Why can't you be productive because now you can read to your child?"

Values and Happy Meals

Dyersburg is a town of about 17,000, an hour and a half north of Memphis on state highways that cut through fields of cotton, sod, and soybeans. The town's edges are defined by suburban-style strip malls, vestiges of a building boom in the 1980s, before factories started to close and jobs dried up.

For years many residents have regarded a college degree as little more than a fancy piece of paper. "The culture does not appreciate higher education," said Karen Bowyer, who has been president of Dyersburg State for 25 years.

A high-school degree, or even less, was enough to get a job at the nearby Goodyear tire factory or the Worldcolor printing plant in town. Some residents in the heavily Baptist region distrust a college education because they think it leads students to question their faith, administrators said. In the county where Dyersburg State is located, nearly 18 percent of residents live in poverty, and attending college can be a distant dream for those just trying to get by.

Persuading parents and students that a degree is valuable has become part of the community college's job. In a recent promotion, McDonald's in Dyersburg handed out 50,000 bookmarks that touted the financial value of a college degree to customers who ordered Happy Meals. The bookmarks, provided by the community college, were printed with a chart that listed average income by levels of education, showing residents that they could earn an average of $67,766 with a bachelor's degree and $82,022 with a master's degree, but only $38,837 as a high-school graduate.

College degrees of any kind are rare in northwest Tennessee. One of the seven counties Dyersburg State serves, Lake County, has the lowest proportion of young adults with a college degree of any county in Tennessee—and the fifth-lowest of any county in the nation. Only 5 percent of people ages 25 to 34 have an associate degree or higher, compared with the national average of 38 percent and the statewide average of 31 percent. Even in Dyer County, where Dyersburg is located and where degree attainment is highest among the counties the college serves, only 20 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds have a college degree.

"When I graduated from school, it wasn't hard to get a pretty good job," said Tracey Crossno, 37, who enrolled at Dyersburg State this fall to study nursing after working as a mortgage processor. "I wasn't going to college because it wasn't a priority. I could make money instead of studying."

That attitude is beginning to change, college leaders said, particularly since high-paying manufacturing jobs are leaving the region. But it is still pervasive among older residents.

"We still have a group of people who are the parents and the grandparents who don't see the value of higher education, and they don't encourage the kids," says J. Dan Gullett, assistant vice president for academic affairs at Dyersburg State. "They're still stuck in that era when you can do things besides go to school."

Dyersburg State Community College itself straddles the divide between the future and the past. High-speed Internet access is rare in the region, but the college's math classes use technologically sophisticated graphing programs in new computer labs. Some students have never even seen the Mississippi River, 12 miles away; still, a professor is taking a small group of students to India in May for a three-week trip to study sociology, philosophy, and history.

Sweeping Changes

Three hours east of Dyersburg, in Nashville, state officials are making an all-out push to increase the number of state residents with a college education. Like Mr. Obama with his 2020 goal, the state's leaders want to spur major change in a short period of time.

But Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, is less sanguine than the president about the chances of catching up within a decade. The president's benchmark is "a fine aspirational goal," the governor said in an interview, but probably not achievable. "From where we are, we're not going to be the best-educated country in the world in a decade," Mr. Bredesen said. "In a generation? Maybe. Fifty years? Maybe."

Tennessee has further to go than most states to meet that goal. The state ranks 40th in the proportion of full-time college students who complete a bachelor's degree within six years, and 45th in the proportion of full-time community-college students who complete an associate degree within three years. To contribute its share to meeting the president's 2020 goal, Tennessee would have to raise the average number of undergraduate degrees and credentials it awards each year by 5.9 percent, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, a nonprofit group that provides data and advises states and colleges on higher-education strategies.

At the governor's urging, Tennessee made legislative changes this year aimed at improving the state's record on college completion, in part by financing colleges based on their graduation rates.

The state left many of the details, scheduled to take effect for the 2012 fiscal year, to the state's Board of Regents and the state higher-education commission. Governor Bredesen said he hopes that the new law will encourage different types of institutions to develop individual strategies to improve their graduation rates.

The law makes other changes as well. Remedial classes will no longer be offered at four-year universities but will become solely the responsibility of community colleges, a change intended to ensure that students arrive at four-year colleges ready for classes that will count toward a degree. And two-year institutions will be required to offer standardized programs that are the same throughout the system, and to set up transfer and dual-enrollment guidelines to make it easier for students to move to four-year institutions.

"It's pretty clear that they're leading the country," said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, an alliance of states working with nonprofit organizations to achieve President Obama's 2020 goal. Tennessee has joined that effort, as well as other nationwide projects to help more students graduate from college. "This is pretty substantial change," Mr. Jones said. "It's the biggest change I've seen at least in 10 years in higher education."

Governor Bredesen acknowledges there will be challenges ahead for his higher-education goals, including limits on resources for colleges. "Substantial cuts" are coming to higher education in Tennessee after money from the federal stimulus package runs out, he said. But Mr. Bredesen said he hopes the crisis will spur colleges to re-evaluate where they are spending their money, and reassign resources if necessary.

"When times are good, you don't think about these hard things," the governor said. "It's when times get tough you have to sit down and decide what's really important."

Doubts at Dyersburg

At Dyersburg, though, many officials are skeptical about Governor Bredesen's plans for improving education outcomes.

Like many Dyersburg State students, Tina Morris had a long path between enrollment and her degree. She graduated from high school in the spring of 1980 and enrolled at the community college in the spring of 1981. Without finishing her associate degree, she transferred to the University of Tennessee at Martin. Then "a life happened," she said: She dropped out of the university to get married, before returning a few years later. In all, her bachelor's degree took 10 years.

"If you just look at the graduation rate, you're missing the heart of what we do, because I would be one of the ones who is considered unsuccessful," said Ms. Morris, who later earned an M.B.A. and is now vice president for institutional advancement at Dyersburg State.

Three decades after Ms. Morris first enrolled at the community college, many Dyersburg State students continue to follow a similar pattern. Dyersburg State has a three-year graduation rate of 9 percent, slightly below the Tennessee average of 11 percent and well below the national average, 28 percent.

Many students who enroll at Dyersburg State never intend to earn a degree. They come to the community college for specific skills and leave once they can get a better job. "Our mission has not been to graduate large numbers of people," said Larry Chapman, dean of students at Dyersburg State. "Our mission has been to meet their needs, whatever those needs are."

Other students do intend to graduate, but their timeline may not fit into the state's formula for success, based on completing an associate degree in no more than three years or a bachelor's degree in no more than six.

"In a perfect world, where our students have 100-percent supportive family and friends, and they have all the money, and high-speed Internet, and a car that never breaks down, and children who never get sick, and ... they don't have to work two part-time jobs, or a full-time and a part-time job and struggle and deal with everything," the state's time frame "makes perfect sense," said Ms. Franckowiak, the English professor, some of whose students have needed years just to pass a remedial class. "But for real students, it takes a lot longer."

Administrators and professors said the ultimate way to measure Dyersburg State's success is through generational changes. Students, even those who do not graduate, are able to better help their children succeed in school, they said. They are more likely to appreciate education and more likely to engage with civic life and culture.

Governor Bredesen acknowledged that catching up to the rest of the world might take time. "This is something that's been going on for half a century, the decline in the importance of education and the educational performance here, and it's going to take awhile to get us out of it," he said. But Tennessee does not have several generations to wait for change, he said.

By one measure, Dyersburg State is already moving toward the goal of more college graduates: Its enrollment is booming. Enrollment increased by 24 percent for the fall semester, and by 25 percent more for this spring. The college now has more than 4,200 students.

What has made the biggest difference wasn't a bookmark in a Happy Meal, college officials said. It was the thousands of manufacturing jobs that have disappeared from northwest Tennessee in the past decade as factories have downsized or simply closed.

The business leaders who remain are the college's allies in stressing that education is the key to revitalizing their corner of the state. With manufacturing jobs gone, the leaders say, Dyersburg's best hope is to attract new jobs with the promise of an educated work force.

Dyersburg State "is so important to the future economic growth of this area," said David E. Hayes, president of Security Bank in Dyersburg. "It's more evident to me than ever that people who think jobs are going to come back driven by low wages are people who have their heads in the sand."

The governor echoed Mr. Hayes's urgency. He wants colleges to have realistic goals for improving their graduation rates, he said, which will probably vary by institution. But he wants to see the numbers increasing—and soon.

"We've just got to solve this problem," Mr. Bredesen said. "If we don't, if a generation from now we're lagging as far behind the rest of the country as we are today, I think we just get sort of consigned to a backwater status. And that would be a tragedy."

Comments

1. shillate - April 13, 2010 at 08:18 pm

And what about the quality of student learning? Certainly, it is important to graduate more students, but we could graduate a high number of students who have learned little or nothing, a scenario I am not sure is enviable, or acceptable, in my view.

2. fcslchron - April 14, 2010 at 07:50 am

Instead of focusing on how many people graduate from college would it not be better to focus efforts on providing a more solid education before college? A piece of paper with the letters B.S. on it does not make one educated. If we truly wanted to judge our nation's level of education we should look at how many people are reading, writing, and doing arithmetic at a college level before they get to college. Instead of looking at how many people who go through remedial programs and then graduate, let's look at how many less people require remedial work from year to year. Where is the bailout for education?

Disclaimer: This is an institutional account and the views expressed are the sole views of RS and not those of the institution.

3. rab1960 - April 14, 2010 at 07:53 am

This effort will be a success only if learning is held constant or improves. Claims are not good enough. Some form of measurement of learning year by year would be required. Improved grades are not necessarily accurate measurements especially in this environment.

Otherwise, the administration will put the pressure on faculty to pass more students with threats of loss of positions and no salary increase. Some faculty will finally yield and then claims of "improved" retention will follow.

I hate to be so pessimistic, but that is how it works. Either do it right or don't do it at all.

4. optimysticynic - April 14, 2010 at 08:04 am

This extreme pressure (in my state as well) to produce numbers of graduates at any cost is destroying not only learning, but also the integrity of the degree and faculty/staff morale. Student services staff are nod-nod, wink-winking at requirements, granting transfer "equivalencies" for nonacademic courses, overriding prerequisites, facilitating all manner of withdrawals, etc.

At every meeting, not even lip service is paid to quality, learning, etc.; the emphasis is all on production. Who is supposed to be maintaining value and quality? In the face of measuring and rewarding only numbers produced? The not-secret is: neither the legislature nor the administration care; their feet are also to the fire of the economy and only numbers matter. This is utterly demoralizing.

I have had a student "threaten" to drop out with six hours remaining if a F grade was not changed, stating that he was well aware of our need to produce graduates before the end of the summer academic term to meet quotas.

Why not just get a big copying machine and mass-produce diplomas?

5. trendisnotdestiny - April 14, 2010 at 08:47 am

Creating the best education country is a process not an outcome; it requires attention at all levels our society that we currently refuse to support.... in a capitalistic country; you get what you pay for....However, this really isn't the point, is it?

Only our unimaginate American minds would conceive of education as a global competition (tying the individual's needs to a business model of production)....why not compete and see who has the healthies families or which country provides the best child care..... blah blah privatized blah

Wake up academia! You are truly uncritical pawns of someone else's parlor game.... someone who has much more power than you;
Business interests have systematically de-skilled your profession and you want to jump on the treadmill of moving really quickly to improve the decay of our educational system.....

Put down the starbucks and step away the impact factor daily ratings for a second and consider --- the structures. The structures that are in place are de-leveraging their responsibilities presently and asking for more effort among the entrenched....

This is not education.... This is the transition of creating a new market from an old one... Ok I am done, you can go back to that research grant....

6. eelalien - April 14, 2010 at 08:54 am

Education and its emphasis on importance begins at childbirth. Period. Just listen to the constant bashing of "elitist" educated folks in this country by people who glorify - and profit by maintaining - ignorance. Unless this attitude towards education at the ground level changes, there is no way that the U.S. will lead the world in education. Other countries laugh as the "last remaining superpower" wallows in superstition and ignorance.

7. physicsprof - April 14, 2010 at 09:06 am

Why would the objective be to make a country the best in anything? This does not seem to be a healthy attitude. Surely, you want to be BETTER that you are, but "the best"??? Does it FEEL nice to be "the best"? For one thing being the best is nothing if the competition is crap. For another, do you rest your efforts if you achieved "the best" status? Why not become better yet?

8. vt007ken - April 14, 2010 at 10:26 am

What the frank?! Have we learned NOTHING from high stakes testing? From NCLB? I want to see education reform and teaching and learning improve, but this is NOT the way to go about it. What is wrong with people, are they actively trying to destroy our education system?

9. intered - April 14, 2010 at 10:27 am

Focusing on graduation rates represents a decent entry point into the modern world.

Next up: graduations per budget dollar to defined academic standards. After that: workplace impact per budget dollar. Somewhere along the way: increased productivity.

While a small number of us attend college to learn how to be a professor and all that that entails, most of us attend to secure or advance our career lives. Nearly half of us are adults for whom socialization objectives, playgrounds, and dorms are irrelevant, intrusive, and wasteful. We have families and responsible jobs; we vote, and we're not especially interested in a professor's world views beyond the subject in which we enrolled.

Please, also investigate the three-year baccalaureate.

http://www.intered.com/higheredbriefing/2010/1/5/the-three-year-degree-part-ii.html (You will also see a link there to a well constructed three-year degree at SNHU.)

Properly executed three-year degrees achieve all three legs of the cheaper/faster/better platform and confer substantial financial benefits to the student and the taxpayer. And, its not that there will be a choice. Schools that fail to develop the three-year degree will see their prospective students choose to go elsewhere.

--------------------
Robert W Tucker
President
InterEd, Inc.
www.InterEd.com

10. farm_boy - April 14, 2010 at 10:38 am

Increasing graduation rates means inflating grades.

Why not use an objective nationalized test to measure competency in a discipline? For example, Spanish majors could take the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (administered by ACTFL, not by someone inside the university fudging an "equivalent" test).

Scoring "Intermediate High" on an ACTFL test means a lot more than getting a BA in Spanish. The latter means only that the student attended classes and managed to pass.

11. cwinton - April 14, 2010 at 10:39 am

Graduation rate is a measure whose application is more likely to degrade outcomes rather than improve them for all of the reasons people are noting. High stakes testing was supposed to improve K-12 education, but colleagues of my generation agree that the students we worked with 30 years ago were better prepared for college than the ones we see today. The point is that these are simplistic approaches that are palliative in nature and do not address the causes.

If you want to improve outcomes, you first have to improve input, which means having admission standards, meaningful K-12 education, and most importantly, support from the home environment in developmental years.

12. 22280998 - April 14, 2010 at 10:58 am

As a professor, I am very much in favor of college degrees. However, Community Colleges also educate individuals in highly valuable "blue collar" technical fields. We need to recognize and respect this too.

13. intered - April 14, 2010 at 11:01 am

I wonder if #10 & #11 can point me to objective evidence supporting their claim that increasing graduation rates inflates grades and/or degrades outcomes.

In cases where we have studied these relations carefully over the past 25 years, we see the opposite outcome.

Most failures of retention-to-graduation (RTG) are best defined as mismanaged critical events, not incompetence slogging along to failure.

http://www.intered.com/higheredbriefing/2010/4/5/ten-no-consultant-tips-to-increase-retention.html

When a university focuses on RTG it becomes a learning institution.

Among the things, the university learns what it can do to provide a more robust learning environment and how to assist students through the crisis of confidence that they occasion at least once in their course of study. Typically, a RTG crisis is not related to intellectual capacity. It is related to time and stress management. Of course, there are a few individuals who take more of a social Darwinian view toward student success. Economically speaking, it is not their call. When taxpayers are supporting the process (as they are for all but the for-profits), the public's interests lie in graduation and career success.

----------------------
Robert W Tucker
President
InterEd, Inc.
www.InterEd.com

14. 22097984 - April 14, 2010 at 11:11 am

Give the parents a voucher and let them educate their child where they want to educate their child. Until we make elementary and high schools compete like we make colleges compete, our schools will remain amoung the worse in the world.

As Bill Gates has said many, many times. One can talk about old buildings and lack of funding. There is much to be said that these are problems. But when you look at what the rest of the world is doing, you really have to step back and realize that our whole model is flawed and that we are competing with cultures and nations that are willing to try and fund completely different educational models. Unless we are willing to change, we will be pushed aside. Acting like everyone should graduate and everyone should get an A is foolish and spending resources to achieve this is a foolish use of those resources.

15. unusedusername - April 14, 2010 at 11:13 am

"I wonder if #10 & #11 can point me to objective evidence supporting their claim that increasing graduation rates inflates grades and/or degrades outcomes."

High school. We have put so much emphasis on increasing high school graduation rates that there are no enforcable standards anymore. This is part of the reason who so many college students need developmental courses.

As has been pointed out above, not everyone that goes to community colleges does so with the intention of getting a 4-year degree. Some are there for automotive repair training courses. Some are there to take a sculpture class for fun. This needs to be considered.

16. drvirna2002 - April 14, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Education needs to be improved way before someone actually gets to college. High school is a good start, but it should be even earlier. High schools are too general, too many choices allowing people to skip courses which would actually assist them in college.

17. intered - April 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Just to be clear, this topic centers on college students who are seeking a college degree as a proximate goal. I presume no one is desirous of finding better ways to graduate students attending college for other reasons against their will. I'm not certain how these students worked their way into this discussion.

Again, I not aware of any evidence that well structured efforts to increase retention in degree-seeking college students have an adverse impact on learning outcomes.

Higher education needs to infuse enterprise management metrics into its functions. It is long past time to stop managing by myth, apocrypha, and squeaky wheel. If other knowledge enterprises managed this way, you would not buy their services or products. You would be wise to take that stance.

- Robert W Tucker


18. salrosario - April 14, 2010 at 01:16 pm

Mr. Tucker said, "Higher education needs to infuse enterprise management metrics into its functions." Would they be like the ones used at Toyota? Or like the ones used at Washington Mutual, Lehman Brothers, etc.? That should be interesting.

19. josephofoley - April 14, 2010 at 01:36 pm

Whether or not becoming the best-educated country in the world is a laudable goal, most people agree that improving the education of US residents is essential to our country's economic progress and democratic stability. Moreover, it seems clear that the vast amount of remediation required to help students achieve a degree (or, more important, an education) is a major obstacle to our educational aspirations.

Perhaps it's time for a national standard for college readiness. It could be minimal -- specifying very basic abilities in reading comprehension, writing, computation, quantitive and logical reasoning, etc. The standard could be used for purposes of student guidance or be adopted by state supported institutions as part of the general admissions requirements. Certainly, demonstrated attainment of the standard would signify far more than the possesion of a typical high school diploma.

If a widely accepted set of basic competiencies were to be established, it might be possible to develop online courses with canned lectures and interactive instructional software to help students meet them. This is already being done in mathematics and probably in other basic skills areas as well. Where human coaching is required, for example in writing instruction, our nations's underemployed army of contingent humanities teachers might be available to participate in a neoWPA program to teach the masses one at a time online. Skeptics who think this is impossible should look into the achievements of StraighterLine and Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative.

The efficacy of such a program would be easy to test in an educational clinical trial costing no more than a few million dollars. Why don't we try something just a little bit different? Our country's future and the welfare of millions of people depend on a successful solution to our problems in education.

Joseph Griffin

20. 12094478 - April 14, 2010 at 01:49 pm

The elephant in the room is the state's floundering "backwater" budget:
"Governor Bredesen acknowledges there will be challenges ahead for his higher-education goals, including limits on resources for colleges. 'Substantial cuts' are coming to higher education in Tennessee after money from the federal stimulus package runs out, he said. But Mr. Bredesen said he hopes the crisis will spur colleges to re-evaluate where they are spending their money, and reassign resources if necessary."

"Re-evaluat[ion]" is merely a red-herring to put pressure on colleges because the State's good-ol'-boy politicians can't come up with enough money to fund what they say they value. With a sales tax of 10%, no state income tax, a border shared by eight other states with lower sales taxes than Tennessee's, and all of its major cities within an hour's drive of a border, is it any wonder that Tennessee cannot generate any revenue for education and that towns like Dyersburg have nothing to offer their graduates? How can you adequately plan to fund education into the future when your budget is so directly tied to the month-to-month fluctuations sales tax in a dying economy?

If Bredeson and the legislators are really serious about Tennessee's future and the future generations of educated students not leaving Tennessee's diminishing manufacturing job force, then they need to tackle the financial debacle that is the state's funding structure. Not a single politician in Tennessee has the guts to go up against the home-spun, backwater "wisdom" of Tennessee's "Pap" Finn-esque voters. And as long as Tennessee's educational system is tied to this, all we can do is root for the Vols football team and produce more remedial students for Dyersburg state to gallantly nurse along.

21. jaysanderson - April 14, 2010 at 01:59 pm

Mr. Tucker appears to have read "Guerilla Marketing" and follows its principles, which include promoting goods and services via blogs. It doesn't bother me that much, but it's a little cheesy.

22. jaysanderson - April 14, 2010 at 02:04 pm

Tennessee doesn't fund education well because of the enormous burden of TennCare, our version of Obamacare. The costs are completely out of control and money is diverted from every other budget to cover it--especially education.

23. intered - April 14, 2010 at 02:09 pm

I second Mr. Griffin's suggestions. Paths to change even more efficient than these are possible once we understand the importance of implementing deep organic change in a system which, as Mr. Gates and countless others have observed, is terribly flawed.

#18: How Churlish and irresponsible to invoke non-specific references to outliers and bad actors as a defense against the metrics we all need to manage well. How invalid as well since the same conditions of low transparency and the lack of appropriate management metrics that describe U.S. higher education were the proximate cause of the collapse of our financial, insurance, and housing sectors. In all cases, higher education included, we trusted the Mandarins and they have not served us well.

Higher education has not adapted well, in most instances not at all, to the profound changes in society and the economy. It has been especially negligent in failing to respond to the many new constituents, each with new and distinct needs, who consume its services. It has become embarrassingly inefficient and unresponsive. Look through a sample of posts at 100 Chronicle articles. You will see a defensive professoriate, largely in denial. You will some members of the faculty and even more representing administration trying to adapt but finding themselves stuck in systems that hamper, and even punish, real change. The ubiquity of perspectives represented by #18, provide insight into the magnitude of the problem confronting agents of change. God help them. - Robert W Tucker

24. intered - April 14, 2010 at 02:24 pm

#21. I appreciate the perspective but, in this case, it is incorrect. The organization I work for neither provides nor offers services to faculty, deans, etc. Virtually all of our work is done for presidents of private colleges and we are generally turning folks away. This is largely a faculty post and I am participating because I was faculty and because I care. I see self-promoting posts from time-to-time but you have not seen me promoting anything other than needed change.

25. greenhills73 - April 14, 2010 at 02:27 pm

1. "A high-school degree, or even less..." I've seen this used before but I wonder if it is correct usage. I have never considered a high school diploma to be a "degree."

2. "Some residents in the heavily Baptist region distrust a college education because they think it leads students to question their faith, administrators said." So some administrator or more said this. That doesn't mean a thing, unless they can back this up with statistics. It is therefore misleading to put it in the article without any substance. I'm Baptist and I and my family have always strongly believed in higher education.

3. Overall, an excellent, well-written article. Very informative, thought-provoking and enjoyable.

26. physicsprof - April 14, 2010 at 02:36 pm

"The lack of appropriate management metrics that describe U.S. higher education were the proximate cause of the collapse of our financial, insurance, and housing sectors."

This is what politicians tell their spoiled constituency, but any honest and thinking person who can look beyond political rhetorics can see that the main cause was not the lack of management, but collective idea of American people that it was sustainable to consume more than they were as a society earning (producing). We are in debt because we lacked discipline and longer-term vision. The new rhetorics of becoming the best-educated country is another BS politicians feed to hopeful electorate.

27. physicsprof - April 14, 2010 at 02:38 pm

The above quote was from #23.

28. grabbe - April 14, 2010 at 02:41 pm

Regarding #21, Mr. Tucker's frequent posts do irritate me. He is clearly attempting to sell the services of his company via his comments, and it is puzzling that the Chronicle allows this when no other sort of commercial-related posts seems to be tolerated.
The reason that posters are offering anecdotal evidence rather than data regarding the problems of allowing sub-standard credit to transfer from community colleges and of the pressure to dumb down the curriculum to increase graduate rates is that no institution is going to allow such a study to be conducted on its campus. However, those of us in the trenches see this trend on a daily basis. Administrators wring their hands and wonder why students aren't finishing, and the answer must be that we are requiring too much of them in terms of difficulty and scope. Three year degrees must be the answer. Never mind that generations of previous students finished in four years or that plenty of current students do manage to finish in four years. I wonder if administrators are looking at the grades of those who aren't completing degrees, as the number of both failing grades and withdrawals in the last decade or so has risen dramatically (yes, anecdotal evidence based on my own teaching and that of my teaching assistants). Many students don't come to class, don't complete assignments, and don't care if they graduate in four years or six years or never. Rewarding this behavior and handing them a diploma anyway does nothing to make the country more educated.

29. grabbe - April 14, 2010 at 02:45 pm

And if Mr. Tucker were simply interested in promoting change because of his concern as he claims in post #24, his log-in name would not be the name of his company nor would he include his company's web-site in his initial posts in each thread. If he is "turning folks away," perhaps he should spend more time helping his clients rather than commenting on the Chronicle...unless, of course, it is indeed a marketing tool.

30. mdanieltex - April 14, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Why is it important to graduate more students? The Bureau of Labor Statistics says we already have more bachelor's degrees than jobs requiring them (except in engineering, math, sciences). I suspect these initiatives have more to do with increasing the school budget for our benefit rather than the student.

31. ikant - April 14, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Articles like this always seem to be missing a step. What's the intrinsic value of a college degree? Many jobs, including any number of white-collar ones, really don't require four years of education, particularly when many people seem to spend far more of that four years drinking cheap beer than studying. God knows I'm not against education, and I see college as having a value far beyond the merely vocational, but it's unclear to me why "more college grads" is the goal.

32. annabucy - April 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm

When college funding is tied to graduation rates, the outcome is the colleges' lowering of standards. I have been teaching in college long enough to see what NCLB has done to the quality of the incoming traditional students, and none of it has been good. Focusing on the end of the process, like graduation numbers, misses the goals colleges should be striving for--higher standards and rigorous curricula--to avoid becoming diploma mills.
When I earned my Master's Degree, I had to write a thesis. Now, grads from the same program at the same college have to write a 20-page paper. If we did a better job educating K-12 kids, colleges would not have to spend money remediating them and avoid too much rigor to not lose funding. I am embarrassed by much of the public education in this nation. We owe ourselves better.

33. johnburningham - April 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Different schools have different student populations, some will graduate a lower percentage. It is NOT a valid measurement of an institution's success; a higher graduation rate may mean the institution has lower expectations. Funding should be tied to the generation of student credit hours; schools with larger student populations need more money.

34. cowgirl_riz - April 25, 2010 at 06:14 pm

I would just like to point out that increasing the number of college graduate is not dependent on just rural states. Most central states (and rural states) have a higher percentage of graduate than more populous states. For example, compare North Dakota has almost 50% of the population with a bachelor's degree - compared to Florida and California (35%). The focus should be on ensuring underpriveldged and/or inner cities students are able to go to college and be sucessful.

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