Almost 500 members of the Association of Public and Land-Grand Universities pledged this week to graduate a combined total of 3.8 million more students by 2025. The schools, which account for about three-quarters of all four-year colleges in the U.S. graduate slightly more than 1 million students per year now. To meet the new goal, the schools will have to increase their graduation rates by an average of 3 percent annually. If they're able to pull it off, the additional graduates would help bring the nation closer to its goal of regaining the global lead in college graduates.
But despite the fanfare, the announcement doesn't really mean much. The pledge isn't binding and did not include any unified strategy for improving graduation rates. We've known for a while that too few students who start college actually earn their degrees. The problem is, no one can agree on the reason why. Some say it's a funding problem--students drop out because they can't afford it. Some say it's a preparation problem--students just aren't equipped academically to handle rigorous college courses. Until schools figure out why students drop out, they'll never be able to keep their pledge to get more of them to graduation.
Tuition rates: Students attending private universities paid an average of 3.9 percent more tuition this year than they did last year, according to a report issued this week by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. That's the smallest recorded increase in at least 40 years, a clue many schools are getting the message that tuition rates are too high. In another positive sign for struggling students, financial aid budgets at private colleges saw a higher percentage increase than tuition rates--6.2 percent. But the increase in student aid is not as large as it's been in the past four years, an indication that the number of grants and scholarships and the size of the awards may be shrinking at a time when students need more help, not less.
Affirmative action: All eyes in higher education will be on the Supreme Court on Wednesday when the justices hear oral arguments in the fight over the affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Texas. Abigail Fisher sued the school after she was denied a spot in the freshman class of 2008. She claims the school's affirmative action policy violated her civil and constitutional rights. In its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, the high court upheld racial considerations in university admissions at the University of Michigan Law School. Since then, many schools, including the University of Texas, have implemented affirmative action programs to increase the number of minority students on campus. Before the school started considering race as an admissions criteria, 21 percent of its students were African-American or Hispanic. In 2007, the year before Fisher applied, minorities made up more than a quarter of that year's freshman class.