DOUG ROSS: A new college try for graduation rates

2013-10-18T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: A new college try for graduation ratesBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

How many times have you heard people use the cliche, "Give it the old college try"? For college graduation rates, perhaps a new college try is in order.

"Less than a third of Indiana's four-year college students graduate on time, and only slightly more than half graduate after six years," according to the Indiana Commission on Higher Education. "Only 12 percent of the state's two-year college students graduate within three years."

That's a very big issue facing Indiana. But built into that measurement are some big assumptions about college students.

The stereotype says a student goes through 13 years of school — if you count kindergarten, and you should — and then goes on to college. But that stereotype should be broken.

"These days, only one in five or one in six college students fit that description that everyone carries around of a 19- to 22-year-old living on a campus somewhere," Purdue University President Mitch Daniels told The Times Editorial Board on Wednesday. "The other four or five out of six, we have to have great options for them, and our regionals are a great choice for that."

Daniels is no ordinary university president. He's also a former two-term governor of Indiana.

"There's no candy-coating the fact that our regionals, ours and IU's, have very low success rates, and we have to become much more skillful, not simply at recruiting students but at helping them over the tough spots and so forth," Daniels said.

I suggested to Daniels, as I now do to you, that Indiana should measure college students differently for graduation rates that makes more sense today.

Keep the current measurement for students right out of high school and attending the main campus. But create a separate measure for part-time students who must balance education with career or raising a family.

"Across the whole spectrum, we need the evaluation system to catch up," Daniels said. "It's even true on more traditional campuses. One in six West Lafayette students do graduate in a reasonable time, but it's from a different school."

Factor in continual progress, rather than simply stalling. 

"I used to think, and still like to find, that taking courses without going all the distance but not finishing still gave them certain advantages," Daniels said. "They were really not very friendly to that idea. What really matters is finishing an achievement."

So perhaps there's a different way of looking at education. Consider throwing up some milestones along the way for specific measurable achievements.

The Center of Workforce Innovations would be quick to mention the WorkKeys program developed by ACT which does this sort of thing. 

Those milestones could help measure progress, if not completion.

"We do need a better and more appropriate metric" for graduation rates, Daniels said. "It probably needs to have something about, they call it persistence ... the person you describe who is chipping away at it all the time."

Let the Indiana Commission for Higher Education know how you feel about this. And by all means, be persistent. Let's see what the commission can achieve.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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