Not So Fast, University Presidents

CF’s own Nate Benefield is quoted at length in a Capitolwire piece today by Pete DeCoursey that calls us “a leading advocate of the unpopular higher education cuts proposed by [Gov. Tom] Corbett.”  That’s one of the more interesting compliments I’ve ever seen, and there are lots more fascinating nuggets in the story, but I’d just like to focus quickly on one.  DeCoursey writes (subscription required):

[Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake] Corman sidestepped the ongoing rhetorical war between Penn State President Graham Spanier and the Commonwealth Foundation, Gov. Tom Corbett and Budget Secretary Charles Zogby. Corbett and Zogby have asked what do state taxpayers get for their $643 million in funding for the three schools?

Both have also said the universities are spreading out the degree-earning years to collect more years of tuition.

Spanier and his university president colleagues have said that critique ignores the reality that many students do not and cannot go to college full-time.

Obviously, lots of people (including some of the most dedicated students I have met) go to college part time.  But that fact shouldn’t fool legislators and taxpayers into complacency over the performance of our public universities.  The graduation rates in reports like this one from the American Enterprise Institute and this one from Complete College America, which come from the U.S. Department of Education, are for first-time, full-time students.  These numbers don’t take part-time students into account.  That’s why the authors of the AEI study rightfully point out:

In the fall of 2001, nearly 1.2 million freshmen began college at a four-year institution of higher education somewhere in the United States. Nearly all of them expected to earn a bachelor’s degree. As a rule, college students do not pack their belongings into the back of a minivan in early September wondering if they will get a diploma—only when.

For many students, however, that confidence was misplaced. At a time when college degrees are valuable—with employers paying a premium for college graduates—fewer than 60 percent of new students graduated from four-year colleges within six years.

Click over to page four of the Complete College America report for a handy-dandy graph illustrating which four-year public colleges in Pennsylvania do and don’t fall into that group.  Those with six-year (not four, which is what most people think they’re paying for) graduation rates for first-time, full-time students of less than 60 percent include Slippery Rock, Lock Haven, East Stroudsburg, Kutztown, Clarion, Mansfield, Edinboro, Lincoln, Cheyney, and numerous branch campuses of both Pitt and Penn State.