Majority of US college students never get degrees

October 5th, 2011

Published on WSWS, by Peter Daniels, October 4, 2011.

A report just issued by the non-profit group Complete College America sheds some light on the appalling state of higher education in the United States today. Examining college completion rates, the report shows that the majority of college students never get their degrees, even when they prolong their stay in school while working or raising families.

There has been an explosion in the percentage of students in college or university over the past two generations, but for increasing numbers this has not translated into college degrees, good-paying jobs or any other social benefit. While there are currently more than 17 million students enrolled in education past the high school level, the percentage of them who will eventually obtain their degrees is substantially less than half.

What the report calls a new American majority on campus is a working class majority that finds growing obstacles in its path as it pursues higher education. According to the report, seventy-five percent of todays students are juggling some combination of families, jobs, and school while commuting to class. Only one-quarter of students attend full-time without commuting.

Forty percent of students are part-time, and they are not included in any of the government statistics compiled by the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

Among full-time students, 60.8 percent in bachelors degree programs attain this four-year degree within eight years, and this is as good as the statistics get. By comparison, only 24.3 percent of part-time bachelors degree students get their degree within eight years … //

… This social reality makes the actual proposals advanced by College Completion America for dealing with the crisis of college completion basically useless. The report suggests the use of block schedules, with fixed classroom meeting times, to encourage students to continue with both jobs and schooling. It advocates peer support and learning networks among students in the same program, and embedding remediation into the regular college curriculum so students don’t waste time before they start earning credits.

None of this will make much difference, however, without such related matters as decent jobs, affordable childcare, housing and health care. These basic social rights are precisely what the capitalist system cannot provide.

Complete College America is largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other big business philanthropies. These sections of the ruling class are worried about what the report calls a yawning skills gap caused by too few trained workers for more high-skill jobs than ever. As a result, the authors warn, incomes shrink, and America falls further behind.

While Gates and his fellow billionaires are understandably concerned about a skilled workforce, they cannot address the fact that American capitalism confronts a crisis that threatens permanent mass unemployment and the continued erosion of the infrastructure as well as social conditions that have been taken for granted for several generations. (full text).

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