In a Land of Dropout Factories, Batting .500 is an Achievement

A very interesting article about US colleges that are "dropout factories."  An excerpt:

Certainly, Chicago State enrolls a large share of academically underprepared students compared to more selective schools such as UIC or Northwestern, so its graduation rate might be expected to be lower. But the idea that Chicago State is doing the best it can with the kind of students it serves is belied by ample countervailing evidence. As the chart below shows, there are more than half a dozen schools in the United States with student bodies that are remarkably similar to that of Chicago State in every important respect—from race to test scores to family income—but whose graduation rates are at least double, and in some cases more than triple, the graduation rate of Chicago State.

Take North Carolina Central University, which enrolls 8,500 students. About 85 percent of students at both schools are black. NCCU’s median SAT score is 840, the approximate equivalent of about 17 on the ACT, even lower than Chicago State’s average ACT of 18. The difference, however, is that NCCU tries to work with the students it has. The result: while Chicago State graduates about 13 percent of its students, NCCU graduates about 50 percent. “We have the philosophy that if we admit the students into this institution we have a great responsibility in ensuring their success,” says Bernice Duffy Johnson, dean of the school’s University College, which focuses on supporting students during their first two years.

Students entering NCCU are told from the start that they are expected to have a goal of graduating in four years. The University College keeps students together in groups and assigns them advisers who must approve all major academic decisions and meet with students frequently. NCCU students even sign a contract upon arriving, a document that lays out the goals of what they are going to accomplish. If they start to struggle, they sign an additional contract that commits them to even closer monitoring. Above all, what drives places like NCCU is a culture of experimentation and data collection. The administrators track students, and they track results. If something works, they keep doing it. If it doesn’t, they try something else. 

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