Winning the College Diploma Marathon


If we have heard any mantra in recent decades related to education, it’s the message that you MUST go to college if you hope to earn more and learn more in your lifetime. It’s a worthy ideal and one that I hope has had a positive influence on parents and students alike.

While we can acknowledge that this message, a recruitment push for attracting students to higher education, has had reasonable success, there is growing discontent about the graduation rates once they enter a two- or four-year college.  Applying and attending college is an important first step, but graduating with a degree should be the ultimate goal for all students.

Some might contend, “Well, they got some college didn’t they, and that should help.” Not quite.  Less charitable types might even contend that students should toughen up and live by their choices to “drop out.”

Both assumptions are dead wrong for several reasons.  First, the United States trails 11 countries in educational success, according to Martha Snyder, author of the report, “Driving Better Outcomes.”

She describes the failure of our students to graduate as a “crisis,” with 46 percent failing to graduate within six years. For minorities, it’s even worse. Sixty-three percent of African American students and 58 percent of Hispanic students don’t graduate on time.

The result is that these “lost” students lose time and money and will in all likelihood earn less than their peers who received a diploma. Worse, these students are “four times more likely to default on their student loans,” resulting in a $9 billion cost for four year colleges and almost $4 billion at the two-year college level.”

Second, the very act of applying and entering colleges speaks volumes about students’ motivation and interest level.  Yet adjusting to college (and outside influences) can have a tremendous impact on one’s studies. What 18- to 22-old has reached the experience and maturity to plan and foresee every possible scenario or implication of their educational choices? Most need guidance and assistance as did we at that same age.

A partial answer to solving this issue is how we funnel funding for our students. Traditionally, as it relates to state funding of higher education in New Jersey, colleges and universities have received funding based on how many full-time equivalent students are enrolled at the beginning of the semester. This model tends to present a somewhat paradoxical incentive for colleges to enroll students and thus provide access to a college education. However, this model does not necessarily drive these institutions to help students successfully complete their degrees. I believe that studying and analyzing the realignment of funding will help New Jersey's institutions of higher education and the students that they serve.

With that in mind, I have have worked on an initiative that would establish performance-based funding plans for public institutions of higher education. This plan is straightforward and realistic. It seeks to “promote and increase the satisfactory progression, matriculation, and graduation of all students enrolled in public institutions.”

Currently, more than 32 states are examining not only the enrollment numbers but the graduation statistics, too.

As one researcher on the subject noted: “Many leaders of performance-based funding stress the necessity of attaining widespread support prior to implementation.” She describes these stakeholders as board members, legislative office institutional leaders, faculty members, businesses and educational organizations. I agree but would add that we should also involve parents, students and voters who pay taxes (and help support our educational system) in the process. After all, most parents contribute something to their child’s education, and the students are the ones to whom we are directing this effort.
Dennis P. Jones, president emeritus, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, says “Outcomes-based funding has moved to the mainstream of state-level higher education financing policy. … As a result, there is a growing body of information about good practices regarding design and implementation of such financing models. The field has advanced to the point that the knowledge base regarding ‘how’ to develop such systems is now in place. The issue now is one of political will, not technical know-how.”

My proposal demonstrates that we have the “political will” to ensure that everyone who wants to attend college can do so with the expectation of graduating in a timely manner. That's my take. What's yours?

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  • Greg Wilson
    commented 2016-01-07 15:47:24 -0500
    I agree with you Troy about establishing performance-based funding to increase the likelihood of increasing retention and graduation rates. As an African-American father and business professional, I know all too well the benefits of succeeding in college as a catalyst to your entry and growth in corporate america. I had the privilege to attend and graduate from a historically black college institution called West Virginia State University and subsequently a Masters from Rutgers University. My mother grew in rural Mississippi and only managed to obtain a sixth grade education, but supported my aspirations to do more and go further than she ever imagined. I owed it her to prevail and to my race. Now your post was not necessarily one about the racial educational divide, yet it still rings loudly. Where would I and my family be without my educational success? I shutter the thought my friend.

    Question – Is it possible to establish a 5-year high school curriculum where the graduating student receives a high school diploma and an associates degree? Would this lessen the financial burden of college and increase not only enrollment in four -year institutions , but graduation rates?

    Good stuff as always Troy!