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Study Explores Why Selective Colleges Produce More Graduates

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
September 11, 2009

A new book released this week argues that a large percentage of students fail to complete a bachelor's degree because they are not challenged enough.

The book, "Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities," focuses on data from 21 flagship public universities and 47 other state institutions. It presents research indicating that students who attended schools which were academically demanding were far more likely to graduate than students with similar academic qualifications enrolled in easier schools.

"There is a net effect related to selectivity that is powerful," noted William Bowen, president emeritus of Princeton University and lead author of the book, who was quoted in USA Today.

The New York Times notes, for example, that only 33 percent of freshmen who enter the University of Massachusetts Boston graduate within six years. Less than 41 percent graduate from the University of Montana, and 44 percent from the University of New Mexico.

"The United States does a good job enrolling teenagers in college," says the Times, "but only half of students who enroll end up with a bachelor's degree."

The study found that wealthy students typically attend colleges that do the best jobs producing graduates, while lower-income students--regardless of their academic qualifications--often attend colleges that produce dropouts.

"It's really a waste," said Bowen, who was quoted in the Times, "and a big problem for the country."

Bowen suggested that one reason selective colleges graduate more students is because of peer pressure and expectations. "If you go to a place where the assumption is that everybody is going to graduate. . .you don't want to be the person who falls behind," he explained.

Moreover, the study indicated that students who lived in a residence hall their first semester were more likely to graduate than those who lived off-campus, underscoring research which indicated that students who made personal connections on campus were more likely to persevere.

The Associated Press [from an article originally located at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g6ds2PoAZ0MnHX-coFnKpULuWbAgD9AJIHAG0] noted some other interesting conclusions presented in the book: According to the authors, the SAT and ACT standardized college tests are of "exceedingly modest" use in predicting who will graduate from college. They suggested that high school grades, AP exams and subject matter tests were much better methods for predicting graduation rates.

In addition, the study found that students beginning at two-year schools were less likely to complete a bachelor's degree than students who started at four-year schools. However, the authors urged four-year colleges to consider accepting more community college transfers in order to make public universities more diverse.

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