Higher Education Ethics: Graduation Rates Versus Diversity

Photo created by Jeff Parker, Florida Today (2008)

Two-year and four-year college institutions may have different layouts in regards to student goals, operations, and staffing. However, if one thing is the same, it is the idea that for college students today, the dream to graduate “on-time,” or within two to four years depending on the program, is not held entirely true in society today. Financials, coursework, and even success rates for students passing classes are the dependent factors that lead to a plethora of added expenses, stress, and more time. At times, one has to wonder if this focus on these topics are the fault of college students or the fault of the Universities themselves. Kasia Kovacs of Inside Higher Ed, wrote an article titled “The State of Undergraduate Education,” which looks to see where the main ethical issues are located in regards to this dilemma.

According to Kovacs, millennials are taking the opportunities that colleges present seriously as “90% of millennials who graduate from high school attend college within eight years” (Kovacs, 2016) with retrospect to the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education. However, a much smaller portion of students successfully complete college with the statistics being much more miniscule than the first one displayed. The Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education further discussed the fact that “only 40% of students complete a bachelor’s degree in four years and 60% graduate in six years” (Kovacs, 2016). What’s even more staggering is the idea that at two year colleges, “29% of students graduate in three years” (Kovacs, 2016), which shows there is a problem going on all across the board for colleges and Universities.

The official logo for the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, which directly supports the “Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education”

One must wonder whether the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education has enough credit and sustainability to report all of this information. To give background, this commision was formed in November of 2015 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences with a $2.2 million funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. One of the first things the Commision did before finding these statistics was try and understand the current state of undergraduate students, which can be seen in their report titled “The Primer on the College Student Journey.” This report involved looking at “the numbers of everything from college preparedness to student loans and providing some analysis” (Kovacs, 2016). After looking at this report compiled with the report involving the state of undergraduates, there were a couple of important ethical issues that were pointed out for higher education officials to look at.

First, diversity played a huge factor as to whether students finish on time or not. According to the recent report from “The State of Undergraduate Education,” women had more bachelor’s degree than men with a comparison of 50% to 41% (Kovacs, 2016). In addition, socioeconomic status had a major impact on graduating time as well as stress as 60% of college students take out loans as of 2012 while this number was only at 50% in 2000. If students did not graduate, 29% of those students defaulted on their loans versus 9% defaulting if they graduate college. Finally, one of the more shocking statistics involved race and ethnicity. According to the report, 75% of Asian students earned an associate degree or higher, which was much higher than white students (54%), black students (31%), and hispanic students (27%) overall (Kovacs, 2016). When people look at diversity in society, it is hard to argue that everyone is the same. This in itself presents the overall ethical issues involving diversity in society. Unfortunately, people of different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and races have different opportunities not only because of the socialization that has occurred in society, but because of the opportunities and focuses for people of different backgrounds in society. These numbers should be higher and more equal for all types of students, which makes one pose the following question: “What can colleges and Universities do to change these numbers and statistics?”

Information from the American Enterprise Institute, 2016

In addition, socioeconomic status played a major role in students either graduating later, or even not at all. Essentially, if a student receives a lower income under $30,000 in regards to dependency of family or independence overall, most of these students will receive “tuition subsidies that actually cover the entire cost of their tuition and fees” (Kovacs, 2016). However, many students who are of lower socioeconomic status are not aware of these opportunities, which makes them opt out of going to college. As Kovacs puts it, “all they see is the sticker price, an expensive prospect.” This issue shows that Universities need to put a larger emphasis on financial help for students who are applying to attend college. Higher education settings focus too much on the amount of income received, or the amount tuition needs to be, versus what resources are there for students that need it. Success rates are directly correlated to this concept. This shows that professionals in the field need to look at more of the ethics behind cash flow in the respect of helping students rather than helping the school solely.

As a student affairs/higher education professional, this will continue to be a struggle as college costs continue to increase and certain programs become more scarce because of budgeting, government funding, or various other factors. Professionals need to think of effective ways to reach out to students in regards to programming, recruitment, and education overall to help make all students see the opportunities that are available to obtaining a cheaper college education. With less stress and more of a focus as to what is required of students, students will be able to graduate on time, and deal with less stress in the process.


Works Cited:

Kovacs, K. (2016, September 22). More people enroll in college even with rising price tag, report finds. Retrieved September 22, 2016, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/09/22/more-people-enroll-college-even-rising-price-tag-report-finds


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