If the United States is to prosper in the future, it is imperative that institutions of higher education take steps to make sure that all students receive a quality education, that they are able to complete the studies they begin, and that they can do so affordably, a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences argues.
Published by the academy's Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the report, The Future of Undergraduate Education, The Future of America (112 pages, PDF), found that while nearly 90 percent of high school graduates expect to enroll in an undergraduate institution at some point, completion rates at those institutions average about 60 percent for students pursuing a bachelor's degree and 30 percent for students pursuing associate's degrees and certificates, with significant disparities within those categories by gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. To address the problem, the report outlines three national priorities — improving students' educational experience, boosting completion rates and reducing inequities, and controlling costs and ensuring affordability.
To that end, the study recommends providing college faculty with more teacher-training opportunities and support; incorporating academic, career, and civic knowledge and skill-building activities into all college credential programs; and developing more reliable measures of student learning. The report also calls for strengthening the collection and analysis of data tracking interventions designed to improve completion rates; making it easier for students to transfer by implementing a general education core; working with employers to provide students with mentoring and internships; streamlining the federal student aid applications process; and targeting resources to the students for whom they will make the greatest difference.
"Completion rates are problematic, and even worse when we recognize that they exacerbate inequities, but it would be wrong to focus exclusively on obtaining the credential," said commission co-chair Michael McPherson, former president of the Spencer Foundation and president emeritus of Macalester College. "The value of completion is inextricably linked to the quality of the educational experience. Our recommendations include increasing training for college teaching, supporting the integration of data and counseling, providing non-tenure track faculty with stable professional careers, and employing reliable measures of student learning. Our goal, which is essential and ambitious, is to raise both rates of completion and the value of the degrees obtained."