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Dropout U

The President’s favorite think tank, the Center for American Progress (CAP [1]) is so anxious to help the White House reach its goal of 60 percent of the population with college degrees that they are considering high school dropouts as likely targets for recruiters.

It should be noted that colleges are already trying to bring back their own dropouts to increase attendance at their institutions, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. U. S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter enunciated the 60 percent benchmark at a recent CAP meeting.

“Reaching a 60 percent attainment level is a challenging task, requiring an annual and repetitive increase in the number of college graduates,” a recent report from CAP notes. “In total, the nation will require an annual increase of roughly 278,000 graduates over each of the next 15 years to hit a 60 percent working-age college-degree attainment level by 2025.”

“Accounting for current rates of enrollment, the United States will produce an additional 112,000 graduates in each of the next 15 years, leaving an annual degree ‘gap’ of 166,000 postsecondary graduates. Generating the additional graduates necessary to reach the 60 percent goal will require a number of innovative steps and perhaps a radical departure from the status quo.”

“Nontraditional is the new normal,” a recent report from CAP notes. “If we seek to educate a greater proportion of our workforce we must recognize that we are not talking only about encouraging greater persistence and degree completion among traditional 18- to 22-year-old, full-time college students.”

“Out target is also, and perhaps primarily, nontraditional students, defined by the National Center for Educational Statistics as students who:

This will make for interesting instructional challenges. For one thing, we are finding that remediation [2] rates in colleges frequently run at 50 percent or higher.

Moreover, as Jenna Ashley Robinson of the Pope Center [3] notes, “Only 29% of college graduates achieve a score of ‘proficient’ on national literacy tests.” Yet and still, should dropouts clear the remedial hurdles, their chances of parlaying their degrees into future success are far from assured.

Robinson reports that:

• “29% of college grads work in high school-level jobs, including ticket-taker, barista, and flight attendant. (Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl. ‘Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018’);

• “20% of individuals making less than $20,000 per year have bachelor’s or master’s degrees. (U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2009)”; and

• “After factoring in forgone wages and the cost of a college education, the average lifetime earnings advantage for college graduates ranges from $150,000 to $500,000—not the million dollar figure that is often cited. (The American Enterprise Institute)”

If you would like to let the White House and CAP know how you feel about their efforts, you can contact them here [4] and here [5], respectively.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia [6].

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org [7]