February 27, 2009

Offering Obama a hand

Louis Soares writes in "A Postsecondary Degree or Credential in Every Pot:"

In his speech to Congress and the nation Tuesday night, President Barack Obama set a bold goal of retaking America’s global leadership in the number of college graduates by 2020. ...

For many Americans, it may come as a surprise that their country is no longer number one in the world in college attainment, with over 14 million undergraduates enrolled in higher education institutions in 2008 alone. But just because students enroll in college doesn’t necessarily mean they finish and attain a degree.

Some insight into this puzzle can be provided by digging a bit deeper into the president’s startling statistic that only 50 percent of undergraduates actually finish their degrees. While the proportion of individuals enrolled in college in the United States has grown since the 1970s, the proportion of students receiving diplomas has declined during the same period. Currently less than 60 percent of students entering four-year institutions earn a bachelor’s degree, and barely one-fourth of community college students complete any degree within six years. As a result, the United States now ranks 10th in college attainment for its 25- to 34-year-old population, down from third in 1991, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Well, it's not really a puzzle why this is happening, although Barack Obama will never, ever tell you it.

But, here’s a reform for making some degree of “college attainment” more feasible, one that I’ve never seen suggested before:

Why shouldn’t four year colleges give out two year Associates of Arts degrees?

For example, say you graduate from a Los Angeles public high school with a C+ GPA, and you average 450 on the SAT test. You could go to LA Valley Community College and get an AA degree after two years and then, if you are so inclined, transfer to a four year institution to pursue a bachelor's. But everybody tells you that a four-year college is much more prestigious, so you decide to enroll at Cal State Northridge. Over the next six years, you finish three years worth of classes, but you are really stumped by a couple of required classes that you’ve failed twice, and now you are 24 and your girlfriend is pregnant and wants you to work full time, and so you drop out.

And thus you will go through life as a mere high school graduate, whereas if you had gone to community college out of high school instead of to a fancier Cal State, you’d at least have an AA degree to your name.

So, why not have four year colleges award AA degrees as well as BA degrees? Why shouldn't this guy have an AA degree from Cal State Northridge?

Similarly, as I've proposed before, high schools could award Associate high school degrees to those who complete the requirements through tenth grade, which would give the low end kids a plausible goal to keep them motivated into sticking with school through tenth grade, and provide future employers with a way to distinguish the dumb but okay kids from the real losers.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Antioco Dascalon said...

This is, as I'm sure you know, standard practice in Ph.D programs. If you never quite make it to the end of the dissertation, you at least get to take away a Masters degree as a consolation prize, at least at many institutions.
I don't see why it should be any different at the BA level, except for financial and status reasons.

Anonymous said...

Surprised that no one has accused you of enshrining mediocrity yet, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like practical ideas, Steve, but I'm afraid practicality is not in the forefront today.

One point I would add is that employers/applications that care ask for last year of schooling, so they can pick out the 3 year Cal Stater from the high schooler.

Anonymous said...

This won't work becuase even after 3 years of course work, the student usually never takes college math or the required science/lab sequence.

But, if they do finish college math and science + lab, this may be a good idea. An AA or AS can't be given just for finishing 60 credits. It has to have math, science, and English requirements.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Comment deleted

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

Is this a joke? [I assume it is.]

Or did someone other than Steve Sailer delete a comment?

Or did Steve approve a comment and then decide to un-approve it?

Anonymous said...

Lucius Vorenus,
The icon is missing so I assume Steve removed it.

Anonymous said...

The semester before I graduated with a BSEE from UF, I was told by a Teachers Assistant that I could get my AA at UF if I applied for it. There was a check the box application form (this many hrs of humanities, that many hrs of social sciences). I received the 8 1/2" by 11" diploma in the mail a few weeks later.