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March 27, 2013 3:01 PM “I Don’t Believe in Graduation Rates”: An Interview with Diana Natalicio

By Daniel Luzer

DN: This is the big issue. We don’t have a very good metric. One strategy that people are talking about now is following students by some kind of unit tracking that can monitor them wherever they go. Every institution that’s played a role would get a certain percentage of credit for whatever they contributed to a student’s degree.

I don’t have the silver bullet. I don’t know how to say, “this should replace graduation rates.” A lot of smart people are working on it. Until we get that figured out we’re not going to be able to make institutional assessments effectively.

WM: Would we need to bring together all of these smart people to create alternative measures if we really just, well, funded higher education properly? If all students had the money they needed both for education and for living expenses, the way Americans did in the aftermath of World War II, and the way they do in Sweden today, couldn’t we measure them all the same way?

DN: I’ve asked myself that often. What if we had a federal program such that every person with a certain level of talent and motivation got all educational expenses paid? Absolutely you could then compare institutions. It would be a great way to assure that we are measuring the same thing at every institution. Universities like mine would be amazingly effective if our students didn’t have to deal with the financial challenges that they face every single day.

WM: In what area does the American university most need help?

DN: We are often defending ourselves against allegations of practices that are not in fact the case. We are alleged, for example, to be against accountability. but most of those allegations are actually not true. But we haven’t done a very good job of articulating the many changes and adjustments that have occurred in higher education. There’s a huge range of institutions. When I listen to criticism of American colleges I find it very hard to find UTEP in the picture that I see critics painting about higher education. We don’t hear enough about public universities that serve low-income students, and there are a lot of such institutions. There’s far too much focus on excessive salaries or facilities and too little on the success of students and the institutions that serve them.

WM: What does the American university do best?

DN: We offer greater opportunities to young people than is the case in most places across the world. The public universities in particular are committed to this. We’ve been supported in that by community colleges and others that are partnering with us to make that affordability and accessibility real for students. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on March 28, 2013 9:29 AM:

    Diana Natalicio actually raises a good point about class scheduling to accommodate working students.

    I work at grad school that--for the moment--discourages part-time study, which coincidentally, favors students who can afford to be enrolled full-time (and not work) for one or two years. And the way they do this is by scheduling the bulk of classes during the day during the week: few evening classes and no weekend courses.

    Of course, it's our institutional prerogative to do this in order to attract a certain "quality" of students who "fit" the curriculum offered, but a lot would-be applicants are put off when they find out that we don't offer evening/weekend or online courses, especially since we are in DC. And it's not unusual for admitted students to simply drop out altogether when financial issues/emergencies come up that necessitates that they go back to work.