Facing a challenge to boost graduation rates

By DAVID BULTENAMarch 26, 2013 

The March 19 editorial in the Sun-Star giving a boost to Timothy White, the new California State University chancellor, was well thought out and gives the new chancellor encouragement to meet the challenge of increasing graduation rates throughout the CSU system.

We know what -- poor graduation rates -- but we don't know why, at least not why the rates are as low as they are.

Some campuses fare better than others but graduation rates should be higher than the 54 percent suggested by Access to Success. How much higher will depend on the commitment of the CSU and community college systems to make this happen.

They all need to forget the numbers and instead focus on the quality of students. Students need to look at higher education as something more than adult day care.

They need an academic plan, subject to some flexibility, as to how their time and resources -- particularly their financial resources -- are used. An academic plan -- a contract, if you will -- needs to be drawn up. Any deviation from that contracted plan would be reason to re-evaluate the student's presence in the system.

If we calculate the success of higher education on the numbers graduating rather than the quality of the graduate, we're wasting money on a system that never will achieve desired graduation rates. I know graduates who cannot write a complete sentence or have never read a novel or who have no idea how to familiarize themselves with current events.

So where do we start? The answer lies in the counseling offices of higher education. My personal experiences with college counselors is at best rotten and at worst abysmal. They seemed to be programmed to fill the pews and keep attendance up in order to keep the state money flowing rather than make a commitment to the student's need for relevant classes and to move the student toward graduation and-or transfer to another school.

The counselor needs to make sure the incoming student is compatible with all aspects of the higher education sought. Does the student have the aptitude and interest -- drive, if you will -- to succeed? Does the college have the academics available to meet the student's goals and needs?

If the school can't accommodate the course study the student seeks, it should tell the student and locate the proper courses in some other collegiate venue rather than just plug the student into courses that have no future but do serve the school by keeping the attendance up. Higher education needs to put the students' interests first.

That interest may consist of having the courage to tell the student that they may not be compatible with the college system. A lack of academic ability, a lack of interest and poor communication skills all may be indicators that tip the counselor off that the student may not be ready for the academic challenge.

If we want to increase the graduation rate, we first must decrease the admission rate.

Bultena is a retired Merced County deputy district attorney.

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