Doc Seidman Says……
…….For college seniors, the month of May is something many have been waiting for. The cold, blustery months of winter turn into the refreshing warmth of spring (except here in Florida), and college students throughout the country prepare to graduate. Graduation, or commencement, as it is called in academia, is an extraordinarily joyful time for students. And why not? They just spent the last four or so years sitting through tedious lectures, pretending to laugh at the professor’s boring jokes, and doing arduous class assignments. The thrill of walking across the commencement stage and throwing a mortarboard into the air in celebration is almost second to none. As a faculty member sitting in the audience, or as an administrator sitting on the stage, I, too was joyful and proud.
Some students learn the hard way that walking across the stage and celebrating with friends and family does not necessarily mean they have graduated. It simply means they have participated in the ceremony. The diploma comes sometime later, after the college has done its due diligence to make sure the graduation requirements have been fulfilled. It’s quite possible that there are students dressed in cap and gown, joyfully celebrating with their friends, who have yet to pass Statistics, or French, or Organic Chemistry, or Food Safety and Sanitation, or any other degree requirement. Don’t get too excited. It’s back to the classroom for you.
But for most everyone else, however, it is indeed a terrific accomplishment and a joyful time. It is something that will be with you forever and nobody can take away.
Unfortunately, many folks who start college don’t finish. In fact, recent statistics have shown that only 55% of four-year college students complete their degree within six years. At least 40% never graduate at all. If you are a student classified as a demographic minority, the chances of completing your college degree are even lower. Only thirty eight percent of African American students (46% of women and 35% of men) will complete their degree. Hispanic students do a bit better with a 46% completion rate. As a comparison, 62% of white students complete their degrees in six-years while Asian students perform the best with a 63% completion rate.
Are you the first in your family to go to college? Congratulations! But sadly, around half of you won’t finish. Do you come from a lower income family? Although government resources help, not having all the money you need is a significant hindrance as only 43% of you will graduate. Were you raised in a foster family? Your completion rate trails the entire field at only 14%.
There are many reasons for this. Money is perhaps the biggest one. Many underfunded students soon learn that they don’t have the resources to complete a four-year degree without an unwanted overwhelming debt burden. Many students get full and part time jobs while in college, but having multiple part-time jobs, or even just one full-time job, can be detrimental. The workplace culture soon supersedes the academic culture and next thing you know, classes are skipped, assignments are missed, and academic woes just pile on.
Since we are discussing money, not surprisingly, students attending private colleges have a better completion rate than their public-school counterparts (66% to 59%). Private schools, with a higher tuition and reduced class size, tend to be more nurturing. The professor may reach out to the students who seem to be fading away. Support services are more attentive too. The lines should be shorter to talk to whichever student support specialist is needed. It may not seem like much, but it helps.
The “For Profit” schools probably do more harm than good. For those of you, or someone you know, who is enticed by one of these heavily advertised universities, note that if you enroll, less than one in four of you will actually complete. They can also be expensive. Most “For Profits” make it easy to enroll and even easier borrow money. Whether or not you complete your degree, if you borrow money to go there, or any other college, you need to pay it back. And if you fail to graduate and have a lot of debt….ouch! Not good.
Sorry to ruin the upcoming graduation party, but college can certainly be a case of “let the buyer beware.” Whereas we would all like to think that attending college is certainly different than buying a used car, in many ways it is not. The buyer’s euphoria to find a good deal on a car might mask the deficiencies the used vehicle may have. It car might start out smoothly, but it is highly possible that as the years go on the flaws show themselves. And if you don’t thoroughly “check under the hood” before you buy it, the problems might arise more quickly.
Future college students and their families really need to “check under the hood” of the colleges they are considering attending. Check the graduation and retention rates. Investigate the advising systems in place. Kick the tires too while you are at it. Visit the campus. Talk to administrators and faculty. Make sure your future student will be well positioned to succeed and graduate. And perhaps most important, take a realistic view of the amount of debt that will be incurred. The truth may hurt, but a smart decision beforehand should help to prevent the pain of debt without graduation.
To the 50% or so that our truly graduating, all the best. Congratulations on your accomplishment. It’s a good one. Hopefully, the college taught you how to make smart decisions. Something that will serve you well in the years to come.