Sunday, December 20, 2009

Then Regent Metzen, Prof. Hagstrom,
and President Bruinks (right)
during two week expedition to China in 2004

College Graduation Rates in Lake Wobegon

Not All Above Average

The usually astute Lori Sturdevant has a thought-provoking article on this topic in today's Sunday Star-Tribune:

[My comments are in blue.]

College: It's for, not by, degrees

It's vital for Minnesota to push students through to completion.

"Minnesota has done a fabulous job over the years in providing access to college," said David Metzen, the former high school superintendent who heads the state Office of Higher Education. "The next big push is going to be, and ought to be, college completion. I am on a mission to improve completion rates."

It should be noted that Metzen is also a former University of Minnesota regent who served for twelve years - even as chair (2003-2005).
So he was present during the dog days of lousy graduation rates. With a background in education, master's and doctorate in educational administration, as well as serving as a school superintendent for eighteen years, one might think that graduation rates would have been important to him back then?

However, Dr. Metzen was also a gopher hockey player. Perhaps he had more pressing issues back then during his twelve years as a regent? Such as athletics at the U? Such as the House that Bob Built and Muscoplat's Folly [aka UMore Park]?

"Regent David Metzen said he thought the future of the project [Umore Park] is the most important decision to face the University in the last 15 years." (Daily - 6/13/08)

And who can forget his righteous indignation over alcohol in the House that Bob Built? I was present at the Regents Meeting when the unofficial Regent for Athletics excoriated his colleagues for daring to suggest that there should be no booze in the House, because of a sacred commitment made to the athletic department that they would be allowed to make money to support themselves. Obviously then-Regent Metzen felt that alcohol, either free or for sale, was a part of the deal. Several Regents - to their credit - disagreed.

His hockey playing friend, governor Pawlenty, has recently appointed him to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, where it is now finally fashionable to be concerned about graduation rates.

Dr. Metzen continues to serve as a speaker (at $2000 - $5000 a pop)

"When it comes to hiring the right speaker, you need a proven leader and motivator. Dr. David Metzen will get you the results your organization is striving for."

Some listed inspirational topics:

Leaders are Learners

Change or Die

Building a Learning Organization

How Great Boards Work

It’s All About People

You Can’t Win Without Teamwork

Inspiring and Motivating Your Staff

Barriers to Change

Moving out of your Comfort Zone

To which can now at last be added:

Get Those Graduation Rates Up!

The numbers show that there's room for improvement. While Minnesota has consistently rated among the 10 top states in enrolling recent high school graduates in college, the state's subsequent graduation rates aren't much to brag about.
To put it mildly...
But Inver Hills leaders think they've found effective ways to change that story. It springs from the notion that college success isn't just a student's responsibility. It's the institution's as well.

Now there's a novel concept. The Morrill Hall crowd seems to think that the only answer is jacking up admission requirements at the U and admitting more highly credentialled students from out of state - witness their latest tution/fee strategy.

The most-recent retention rates kept by the state's student-counters are for fall 2007, the year after Inver Hills kicked off its "Finish What You Start" campaign. Inver Hills' rate jumped from 45 percent to 56 percent in that one year.
Gasp... And what is the U's grad rate? See below.
Its "success rate," combining retention, transfer and graduation rates 18 months after enrollment, grew from 53 percent in the spring of 2004 to 63 percent five years later. Among learning-community students, fall-to-spring retention rates for the past three years have been 10 to 12 percent higher than for other Inver Hills students.
Cough, cough.
Minnesota needs a surge in college completion in the next few years to maintain its longest and strongest economic advantage -- its well-educated workforce. The progressive think tank Growth & Justice recommended a 50 percent increase by 2020.

It's needed because the best-educated generation in Minnesota history is the one that's about to retire. Replacing baby boomers with as many -- or preferably more -- well-educated workers means getting a bigger share of younger Minnesotans through college.

And it means more money, spent smarter.

A new national survey of 22- to-30-year-olds, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that the leading reason students drop out of college is financial.

In the Midwest, Indiana is demonstrating what's possible. Its "Reaching Higher" strategy, enacted earlier this year, involves directing new money to colleges not based on the number of students they enroll but on the number who successfully complete courses. Institutions that increase their output of graduates (particularly those with low incomes) and accelerate the time needed to achieve a degree also are in for a state aid reward.

That is, they were, explained Indiana's associate commissioner of higher education Jason Bearce. Then came a budget deficit. (Sound familiar?) Now those same criteria will be used to spread a $150 million cut among Indiana's colleges and universities.

Indiana's idea, evidently, is to spend higher-education dollars strategically, no matter the amount. Clever of those Hoosiers, eh?

Strategically? My goodness doesn't that word have a familiar ring? We have a Strategic Planning Initiative here at the U, I understand. Sadly, it appears to be more of a propaganda initiative.
I have been hammering away at the financial burden of U of M undergrads for several years. President Bruininks claims that all of this is being taken care of by new funds for scholarships. Even the CLA dean does not believe him.

The U leads the BigTen in student debt at graduation which, in round numbers is $25 K. And this is only an average. The sad fact is that the debt at Macalester is only, on average, $17 K. Something is very wrong about these numbers. Dr. Bruininks, don't you agree?

The last three presidents at the University of Minnesota have made graduation-rate improvement a priority, and the numbers have climbed out of the cellar as a result.

Actually they are still in the cellar, compared with our competitors. Given the disgraceful baseline - 25% in the not too distant past - recent presidents have had a difficult task in defending themselves. Claiming that things are improving doesn't mean much when our competition is doing significantly better. I note that the current president has been an administrator at the U for a very long time and he has a background in the education business. He bears more than average long term responsibility for this situation.
But at 45 percent after four years for the class that enrolled in 2004, the grad rate at Minnesota's higher-ed powerhouse is still low compared with its peer institutions.

Low? We've got the bottom slot nailed down.

So let's briefly recap.

Inver Hills Community College can significantly raise their graduation rate and the U of M can't? We have this great College of Education and Human Development that is on the forefront of teacher re-engineering and we have a president whose Ph.D. is from George Peabody Teacher's College (now absorbed into Vanderbilt University) and we still can't do it?

Where are your real priorities, Dr. Bruininks?

"Bruininks said he didn't know of a university in the United States that was doing something [MoreU Park aka Muscoplat's Folly] as 'courageous and innovative.'" (Daily - 6/13/08)

Why don't you do something really courageous and innovative like dropping this "ambitious aspiration to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]" nonsense and returning to our true land grant mission: education, research and service to the citizens of the State of Minnesota?

Our first priority should be an excellent and affordable education at the U. Promise this - and deliver - and you might be surprised at the reaction of the legislature.

As the student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily, put it earlier this semester:

"As for commitment to quality education at an affordable cost? Meaningless drivel. The administration has flatly failed on its promises of excellence and affordability." Daily (13 Oct 2009)

Ohio State University has had no tuition increases in the past three years, no lay-offs, and staff will get a 2.5% increase in compensation. A lot of this has to do with their president, Gordon Gee. Maybe President Bruininks should talk to him for a little advice on how to get along better with the state legislature? Obviously, a high tuition, quasi-public model is not the only one possible.

Leadership matters.

Time for a change?

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