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An ambitious program of visits to high schools has been organized by Al Smith,
director of student development at East Carolina (shown with members of the
university’s student government). “You’ve got to get a dialogue going with the high
schools,” Smith says.
that reward progress will have the unintended effect of
leaving students in lower economic classes behind. College
populations are changing so rapidly that only the top-level
schools attract students with the preparation, motivation and
wherewithal to finish in four years.
Indeed, some educators, most notably Stanford’s Michael
Kirst, believe that even six years is too short a time to expect
students to graduate.
“Forty-six percent of our students (in California) start in
community colleges,” said Kirst. “So finishing from there in
six years is a dream. I think ten (years) is better. And how you
arrange an accountability systemwith that kind of timeline
and movement is difficult—because you want to be fair to
these institutions.”
Some dismiss the longer time frame. Haycock calls it “a
crazy idea” because, she said, “If your career begins with a
bachelor’s degree at 22 or 23, you have an enormously different
earnings trajectory than you do if you get a B.A. at 32 or 36.
You don’t want to signal to institutions, ‘Oh, don’t worry, slow
it down.’ Those students who are taking more time are taking
up seats. And we’re in a time in some institutions where we
don’t have enough seats to go around. Universities have made
a virtue out of multiple paths to graduation, with stop outs,
and so forth, and the fact of the matter is those are not equal
That said, there is growing evidence, as noted in a
New York Times
report, that students entering
community colleges—more often coming from lower-
income backgrounds—are unprepared and need extensive
remediation. This can have a snowball effect, as it extends the
time required to graduate from the two-year college and move
on to a four-year institution.
The macro issue becomes how to make higher education a
more seamless transition fromhigh school to college, a K–16
At East Carolina University, another new initiative is to
send admissions counselors and other advisors into area high
schools. Said Al Smith, ECU’s director of student development,
“You’ve got to get a dialogue going that says to the high
schools, ‘This is what we’re seeing. This is what we’re looking
for. This is why students are not making it inmath, English,
whatever.’ This is definitely a huge issue.”
The solution, echoes Kirst, is to get K–12 and higher
education working together on remediation and to jointly
fund that effort. “You can’t solve this with those two levels
working separately,” said Kirst. “You’ve got to look at joint
products and pay them for joint outcomes.”
Elaborate programs aside, nothing beats the personal touch
for keeping students on campus. The story of LaurenMoscar,
an ECU sophomore from the little town of Stem, North
Carolina, demonstrates that fact and makes Don Joyner’s
welcoming address for freshmen prophetic.
Months into her freshman year, Moscar broke up with
her high school sweetheart. “Four and a half years dating
somebody,” she recalled. “You come back fromChristmas
break and they’re not there anymore. That support system you
have is gone. It was almost enough for me to consider, you
know, ‘What am I doing here? I’m all by myself now, and I
have no idea where to go fromhere.’”
Moscar credits friends she hardly knew she had, and
advisor Jayne Geissler, for coming to her rescue. “A lot of
people who were
kind of in the
background stepped
forward, and I think
that’s what college
is about—finding
people that you didn’t
knowwere there.
“Actually, Dr.
Geissler was a really
big help. I’d go to her
office and sit down.
I was supposed to go
to sign up for a class and I’d end up there two hours talking
about my ex-boyfriend and what else was going on inmy life.
So those two things pretty much are what kept me here and
pulled me through.”
Moscar, who enrolled in ECU intending to transfer to
UNC-Chapel Hill, has since changed those plans. “I’m going
to stay here,” she said. “I love it; I love the atmosphere here.
And I have no doubt I’ll finish on time.”
Don Campbell is a freelance writer and a lecturer in
journalism at Emory University.
Growing debt prompts
some students to
give up, and others
to “stop out” for a
semester or more to
earn tuition money.