Editorial: Why are college graduation rates so low?

 Declining college graduation rates are an indication of a flawed education system. Today just 40 percent of college students earn a degree in four years. (Photo by Pixabay/Creative Commons)

Declining college graduation rates are an indication of a flawed education system. Today just 40 percent of college students earn a degree in four years. (Photo by Pixabay/Creative Commons)

Declining college graduation rates are an indication of a flawed education system. Today just 40 percent of college students earn a degree in four years. This phenomenon is so common that educators now use six years, by which time 59 percent of undergraduates receive their diplomas, as the new normal.

This decline also contributes to an overall decrease in acceptance rates. With undergraduates lingering, there is less room for new students to enroll. 

There is no sole cause of this decline, but many contributing factors affect graduation rates. Many claim that the most central of these factors is an inadequate secondary school system that fails to prepare students for college. “The American system of higher education may be the best in the world. Yet in terms of its core mission — turning teenagers into educated college graduates — much of the system is simply failing.” Advanced Placement course programs in high schools attempt to replicate college courses, but they are only offered in limited fields of study, so not all students find them helpful in preparing for college. They are also taught by high school teachers in a high school atmosphere, which tends to be more lenient than college courses, so they do not prepare students to have a college-level work ethic. Other high school programs, such as guidance counseling and SAT preparation, also contribute to preparation of students for college courses and allow them to receive a degree in four years.

Another popular claim made to explain this college graduation rate decline is that there is a dropout crisis in many universities, mainly caused by individual students’ socioeconomic status.  “On campuses that enroll poorer students, graduation rates are often low.” 

“Many people like this plan to return to get their degrees, even if few actually do. Almost one in three Americans in their mid-20s now fall into this group, up from one in five in the late 1960s. Most come from poor and working-class families.” It is not uncommon for students from low-income families to drop out of college to work and not go back to finish their degrees.