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Three Myths that Hinder Better College Completion Rates

Three Myths that Hinder Better College Completion Rates

Terry MacTaggart is a senior fellow at AGB and the former chancellor of the Minnesota State University System and the University of Maine System.

Boards should be alert to three false beliefs in the academy that work to stymie completion initiatives.

“Many of the students we admit just aren’t capable of college-level work” is the most common. A second myth, voiced by some academics, goes “my job is to present the material, not to coddle weak students.” Last comes the economic argument: “the money we spend on these underprepared students would be better spent on attracting students ready to learn.”

Let’s consider each in turn. The “they just aren’t capable” argument just isn’t true, at least to the extent its advocates believe. The many programs that increase completion rates at colleges and universities across the country demonstrate that, with the right support, more students succeed. Boards should request that faculty and staff examine the success rates of higher performing institutions and seek to replicate the services that make a difference.

The “not my job” belief is also largely false. The great teachers from Socrates to the Buddha to those special transformative professors we remember from our own college days all enabled their students to learn. Indeed, college may admit a broader range of students than in the past, but in addition to research and service, the raison d’etre of teachers is to teach.

Finally, the economic argument fails if we compare the cost of retaining students through graduation to repeatedly recruiting new classes—only to witness a majority dropping out before completing a degree.

As the AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Board Responsibility for the Oversight of College Completion states, “the mission of colleges and universities is not admitting students—it’s educating and helping them persist to graduation.”

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