October 10, 2021
Millions of college freshmen are settling into college this fall, and 9 out of 10 of those pursuing bachelor’s degrees are confident they’ll finish in four years or less.
If history holds true, however, fewer than half of them actually will.
Colleges have gradually moved the finish line to give themselves credit for success if students graduate in six years — or even eight years, which is what consumers find reported on the government’s newest consumer website, College Scorecard.
That’s like judging the performance of an airline by the percentage of its flights that take up to twice as long as scheduled to reach their destinations.
Researchers, policymakers and journalists have largely unquestioningly used this measure. But now, as graduation rates stagnate, the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to make them even worse and the Biden administration proposes spending $62 billion to improve completion at higher education institutions with large proportions of low-income students, it’s attracting unaccustomed scrutiny.
“They’re pulling a bait and switch on students,” said Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of the advocacy group Complete College America.
While 90 percent of entering students in a nationwide UCLA survey say they’ll graduate within four years — the most basic promise made by a university or college to consumers — only 45 percent of them will.
They often won’t find out about these long odds from the colleges themselves, and they’d have to dig deep to learn them from the federal agency that regulates higher education.