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December 07, 2009 1:44 PM The Graduation Problem

By Daniel Luzer

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So often when policymakers talk about college, the focus is on getting people into college, not so much on whether or not they actually finish. In part that is because it is often difficult to figure out who finishes.

While community college is so often the focus of discussions about minority college access and closing the achievement gap, in fact the completion rate at community colleges is rather low. From an article in the Washington Post comes news that:

About 45 percent of low-income and underrepresented minority students entering as freshmen in 1999 had received bachelor’s degrees six years later at the colleges studied, compared with 57 percent of other students.
Fewer than one-third of all freshmen entering two-year institutions nationwide attained completion — either through a certificate, an associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year college — within four years, according to the research. The success rate was lower, 24 percent, for underrepresented minorities, identified as blacks, Latinos and Native Americans; it was higher, 38 percent, for other students.

The information comes from a report, “Charting a Necessary Path: The Baseline Report of the Access to Success Initiative” (pdf), by the Education Trust. The report will serve as the starting point for a 24-organization initiative to cut the achievement gap in half in the next six years.

While the information revealed in the Ed Trust study is perhaps not terribly surprising, it was the first attempt to measure graduation across the higher education system; currently the federal government keeps track of graduation rates by institution so it is difficult to know whether a student who enters one institution ever graduates from another.

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