Six-Year Graduation Rates Slip

The New York Times has a confusing article today ("Debate Grows as Colleges Slip in Graduations") about the small percentage of "full-time freshmen" at community and commuter colleges around the country who graduate within six years. But the article goes on to point out that many of the students who attend these kinds of programs "are older, have children, and work full time," and that nearly half the students at the worst offender (Northeastern Illinois University, a Chicago commuter school) attend part-time. The statistics apparently don't count as graduates people who transferred out of a given community college into another community college or into a four-year program.

And in my experience, many people start out full-time and then drop down to part-time when they realize there aren't 96 hours in the day to juggle their various roles. If they're attending part-time -- as many peole at community colleges and commuter schools do -- then of course they're not going to graduate in four years, or even six. They're taking a class here, a class there, and fitting in what they can in between work and family obligations. I don't understand what the scandal is.

If anything, that's one of the things I admire about this country. Having grown up in Europe, I find it striking how much more open Americans are to starting a college degree even if they weren't on a college track when they got out of high school, and even if they have to plug away at it piecemeal while working full or part-time. In Germany, 30 percent of students drop out of university, even though tuition is "free" (i.e. taxpayers pick up the tab), working during school is practically unheard of, and the average student doesn't graduate until age 28. When my home state (Hesse) tried imposing a semester tuition fee equivalent to several hundreds of dollars, student protesters brought several large cities to a standstill. I'll take the scrappy American part-timer any day.