As students receive their much awaited college admission notices, it's a great time to remind everyone in higher education that there's a huge overemphasis on acceptance, often at the expense of completion. An important dimension of the cost of higher education and the student debt bubble -- whether at a public or private school -- is the ability of people to move through with some degree of predictability.
There has been significant debate over the appropriate period for acquiring knowledge, but the concept of the four year degree is very much a part of the college landscape. Still, many institutions do not move their students through at this pace. The typical time frame for tracking graduation rates is to use a six year window, as opposed to the four years students (and parents) typically think it will take them. Even when giving students six years to complete, the average six year completion rate among private non-profit colleges and universities is just 65 percent. The data is even more discouraging at public and private for-profit institutions with six year completion rates of 56 percent and just 28 percent, respectively.
Each additional year of school, of course, adds significantly to the cost of an education and student loans and at Babson we focus on a four year completion rate. While Babson has a four year graduation rate of 85 percent (no. 38 among private colleges and universities in the country according to the latest survey by U.S. News & World Report), many schools with substantial resources have lower rates -- including Johns Hopkins University, MIT, Tufts, Brown University and Emory University.
Given the high cost of a college education, there's been increasing attention to both retention rates and four year graduation rates. Let me add my fuel to the fire and issue a challenge to higher education leaders to recognize the importance of designing delivery mechanisms at their institutions that are geared to enabling more students to complete educational programs within the time frames allotted. Everybody at the college has to be aligned and oriented to this goal.
It means being absolutely sure that either students who are admitted can complete the program in four years or there is sufficient attention to remediation to be able to ensure that admitted students will be able to succeed. For the program chairs and deans, it requires the candid recognition that the vast majority of young people now come to college unprepared from their secondary education not only in the content level but, more important, in their basic skills level.
There are issues of organization, planning, independent learning, study skills -- a whole boatload of questions that end up being the most significant definers of success and failure during the critical first year and, consequently, for the overall educational experience. These need to be delivered alongside the content of the curriculum. All members of the community have to recognize the promise, along with the responsibility, inherent in bringing young people as students to your campus -- using every resource and every bit of power in the institution to ensure completion in the appropriate time frames.
Every school has to develop its own recipe for success. At Babson the critical ingredient is a great support network. That starts as soon as students are enrolled, and comes fully into play from the day students arrive on campus with our First Year Seminar. These one and a half hour classes are held once a week for the first semester, and each one focuses on a topic about transitioning to college life. Every freshman in the First Year Seminar works with an upper level student, a faculty member, and a staff member in a small group of 15-20 students. They also meet regularly outside of class and have discussions that are designed for self-exploration. If students feel isolated, they can reach out to one of those three mentors assigned to their team.
The emphasis on a strong support network continues throughout a student's years at Babson. We are constantly trying new ways to build connections not only among students, but also with faculty and staff. There's considerable research that supports the notion that if students feel connected, they're more likely to be engaged and stay on track to complete their education.
We believe that if we bring young people into our community, we have a moral obligation to partner with them so they succeed. We also believe that any college can do so if it (1) Pays as much attention to retention and completion as to admission; (2) Aligns all members of the community with students -- advanced students as mentors, faculty and staff in the process of ensuring that you deliver on the promise; and (3) Actually treat admission as a promise.