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New Effort to Increase Abysmal University Graduation Rates

Complete College America is a brand new national effort to increase graduation rates in US institutions of higher education. The new effort was reported yesterday in Inside Higher Ed (“The Completion Cacophony”) and the day before in the Chronicle of Higher Education in this article (subscription required).

Seventeen states have joined this effort, which is funded by The Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Ford Foundation (quite the line-up).

I’m not sure whether this new effort will really make a dent in the problem, but I can attest that something is rotten in American academia.  Our graduation rates are a national disgrace.  Even as we are sending students of to college in greater numbers, fewer than half of those who start a bachelor’s degree ever complete it.

Colorado is not one of the 17 states participating in the new effort. But it certainly should.  The table below shows that only four of Colorado’s public institutions of higher learning beat the national average.  And several of them have embarrassing graduation rates.  If these institutions were companies, they would be closed by now for lack of customers.  Who would want to attend a school that promised less than a 25% chance of getting your degree?


Graduation and Retention Rates

Universities and Colleges in Colorado

Graduation Rate (6 yrs) Retention Rate (1st to 2nd year)
Western State College 17% 61%
Metro State of Denver 24% 62%
Adams State College 30% 53%
Fort Lewis College 30% 59%
CSU-Pueblo 31% 62%
Mesa State College 33% 61%
Univ of Colorado-Colo Springs 46% 69%
University of Northern Colorado 48% 69%
Colorado State Univ-Fort Collins 63% 82%
University of Colorado-Boulder 67% 84%
Univ. of Colorad0-Denver 68% 85%
Colorado School of Mines 87% 94%
Colorado College 87% 94%
University of Denver 74% 87%
Regis University 56% 83%

While there are many complex reasons that explain these low graduation rates, the time has come for taxpayers to express a little more outrage at this state of affairs.  Would we permit the Registry of Motor Vehicles to have a 50% success rate in getting our license renewed (never mind how long it might take)?  Or how about the Department of Public Works filling only half of our potholes?


Reader Interactions


  1. From the Wall Street Journal (8/25/2005):

    “Lets’ see if we can follow the [professor’s] logic: ‘Students don’t read what they are assigned, so it becomes important to assign them less reading.'”

    Talk about a race to the bottom.

  2. Out of curiosity, where did you find the numbers from Colorado. I’m interested in comparing them to similar schools in other states.

  3. Hi, Cory. I got these from Wintergreen Orchard House. But one of the best sources is the National Center for Education Statistics. Check out their “college navigator” site. Way cool.
    Have fun with those stats!

  4. Our local flagship has an open admission policy. Although I don’t agree with it, I can understand the reasons. Each year though, the politicians bemoan the low completion rates, money is funneled to bureaucrats to “solve the problem”, and I just shake my head at the wasted funds.

    Show me a rational strategy that does not imply grade inflation, decreased rigor and/or vocational degrees, or a more selective student body, and I’ll be happy to be amazed.


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