Georgia Voices: A matter of degrees
by The Rome News-Tribune
November 09, 2012 12:00 AM | 2334 views | 1 1 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THE IMPORTANCE of not only seeking some form of higher-than-high-school education/skills but actually accomplishing it has been lately receiving overdue attention. Given it is largely an accepted fact that the ever-changing and escalating demands of the economy pretty much demand this — plus perhaps a lifetime of continual retraining and upgrading of employment skills — it is only common sense to start to insist upon Americans understanding they must also actually accomplish this.

There’s general agreement on this with pursuit of a nationwide initiative called Complete College America much under discussion. Apparently each state is supposed to figure out how to do this with the common goal of increasing college graduation rates (or technical certifications). Given most states haven’t yet solved how to stem high-school dropout rates, that probably is a bit optimistic. Nonetheless, it must be pursued.

In Georgia it is estimated there are 1.3 million residents with some college but no degree, actually more than the roughly 1 million citizens ages 18-64 without a high-school diploma. Not only does this betray a workforce possibly not skilled enough to compete but it indicates a colossal waste of many billions of HOPE scholarship dollars. That’s not meant to imply the students/individuals didn’t get anything out of their incomplete college experience; it is only to say the economy/workforce likely didn’t get enough.

On the encouraging side, Willis Potts of Rome, whose term on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents unfortunately runs out Jan. 1, outlined some sensible approaches in speaking to the Rome Rotary Club — sensible in that they seemed aimed at attacking it on a case-by-case basis rather than as a fundamental flaw in how higher-education operates.

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POTTS SPECIFICALLY hammered at: “We’ve got to restructure higher education delivery to be able to give those the opportunity to come back and complete what they’ve started. … The cost of college affects college completion significantly. We have to get past our own arrogance and be willing to do things that will provide education to them. We have to make college fit into the student’s life instead of the other way around.”

Against a state background of slashed HOPE scholarships, increased tuitions and many colleges reporting declining enrollment that’s a big obstacle to getting students to return … and even go in the first place.

Money isn’t all of the problem. Just as with high-school dropouts, there are many different problems leading to the big failure-to-complete college number. For example, many students who “drop out” were unprepared to learn at that level to start with, perhaps in part due to “grade inflation” as all the remedial courses prove. There are money problems besides tuition, particularly if living away from home is involved. There is going for the wrong reason — to party, to escape supposedly dull parents and hometowns, to pursue the opposite sex and on and on and on.

The largest single obstacle to complete college — or high school — is probably insufficient personal motivation to do so.

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AS POTTS put it: “It is not about the institution, it is about the student. And finally, as a state, we are beginning to understand that.” One hopes Potts was not referring to the regents-led state task force appointed to attack this dilemma by Gov. Nathan Deal. It is probably premature to flay a tentative proposal but the outline recently unveiled appears to be to reward/punish institutions of higher learning by adding/withholding money depending on the progress made by their students toward graduation.

Does that remind anyone else of the just-abandoned national “No Child Left Behind”? Under the framework proposed, sophomores are worth more in formula dollars than freshmen, juniors more than sophomores because of the progress being made toward graduation. There would be different payment scales for technical colleges, state and two-year colleges, regional/state universities and research universities. There would be “bonus points” for retaining “target populations” such as those of low income and, it is easy to guess, minorities. Will having a winning football team count?

Under the complex statistical formula proposed about the only workforce value may be in creating employment for bean counters.

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A FEW other states have also embarked on this carrot-and-stick path, which appears to assume the colleges/professors may be more to blame for the current situation than the students and society both on and off campus in general. Flunking out because one has to work 20-30 hours a week to pay for books, room and board — or leaving because of pregnancy, more beer drinking than studying and so forth has nothing to do with what state colleges offer. So now public institutions of higher learning are going to be punished if students fail to avail themselves of taxpayer-supported opportunity?

This could quickly become akin to the “grade inflation” now notorious in high schools regarding tying HOPE money to grades. There is going to be great pressure to pass as many students as possible, to keep them “on track” to graduation and the money coming in.

It’s also worth pointing out another aspect of this state outlined approach to a very real problem that may well be more human than educational:

Against the background of Georgia legislators for years now steadily cutting deeper and deeper into the percentage of budget support they provide to higher education, what a handy new excuse it will be to add “poor performance” to the reasons even less money should go to improve the added-skill opportunities of the state’s workforce.

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Maatf
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November 09, 2012
Very good points on the stupidity of any plan that rewards or penalizes colleges or after-high school training schools based on how many graduate. It will lead to grade inflation, it will lead to cheating. And there really is a problem with kids not being prepared for college, both academically and in maturity. Put the effort toward getting kids ready for college.
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