Getting to Graduation edited by Andrew P. Kelly & Schneider

When I first stepped onto a college campus, I had one goal in mind: to become an athletic trainer. Four years later, I was walking across the graduation stage completing my bachelors degree in Theology ready to enroll in graduate school to seek my masters degree in higher education. What in the world happen to me? How did things change so dramatically?

Even though I lived it, I am amazed at my college journey. I am surprised I finished college (especially in only four years) and then I went on to get my masters degree (the first in my family). College was an amazing experience, but it was also one of the most difficult journeys in my life.

In college I fought rejection, depression, failures and more. If it was not for some amazing students, staff, and faculty in my life, I am confident that I would have never finished. When I graduated college, I had one goal in mind: to help college students the way I need help. That become my calling.

The title Getting to Graduation says it all. Over the past few decades, colleges and universities have had trouble getting students to graduation. The graduation rate for first-time, full-time students getting their degree within six years hovers just under 60%. That means 40% of these students most likely do not finish their degree, driving up their debt with no accomplishment. For colleges, this challenge is growing in urgency as the population of high school graduates decreases.

So how do we fix the completion rates? Well, the book said it simply, “we do not know much about how institutions can improve the success of their students.” This book goes through various means including effective remedial education, financial aid reform, improving community colleges and associate degrees, and even changing the definition of success. The book ends with debate between small, incremental tinkering versus comprehensive overhaul. The book concludes in favor of comprehensive overhaul. Though I like the concept of thinking differently and critically, I cannot endorse rebuilding the whole system. One, we do not know what works and what does not, so I would not want to work on trial and error through the entire process. Two, there are a lot of things that do work, we just do not know why. There are plenty of schools with significantly better than average completion rates. These schools would benefit more from small experiments than reinventing the wheel.

I do not know what colleges and universities will look like in ten years. For centuries, experts and pundits have predicted the fall of American higher education and they have all been wrong. I expect things to get more efficient. I expect more data. I expect more options, especially online. All said and done, I still expect higher education to be important to the fabric of our society.