A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
Before I left public school teaching in 2002, the district I worked for had implemented, at a low level, a plan to mentor potential dropouts. Kirp’s book argues for the need to have American universities tackle the same problem, citing the fact that, nationwide, colleges and universities support a 40% dropout rate. The rate is even higher among community colleges: 60% of students drop out before completing an associate degree.
Kirp visits a number of universities who have implemented innovative programs to retain more students: Georgia State University, the joint campuses of the University of Central Florida and Valencia College, the University of Texas, and an “elite” school, Amherst College. His research indicates that, in some cases, small adjustments can allow a student to finish a degree. One helpful practice is to provide small grants (not loans) during the last semester or two; it can make the difference of finishing or not. Another is for the institution to provide professional advisors (not professors) whose job it is to keep tabs on students, particularly those at risk of dropping out; students cannot escape contact. The institutions have even provided experiences that help students to think positively about themselves. Some forward-thinking professors use the Internet to provide lecture material to be read on the students’ own time; then they use class time to work more actively together. Other places provide accelerated tutoring to catch students up in, say, math in the period of one semester without having to slow down the student’s advancement through a program.
In essence, Kirp asserts that because of the great expense involved in attending college now, institutions of higher education owe their students something better than the old sink-or-swim or trial-by-fire approaches of the past. They should meet halfway these bright students who have met the entrance qualifications and make sure they have every opportunity to finish their schooling. Although I attended a small, private school (a half a century ago) and found great comfort in attending small classes led by professors who were highly accessible, with the practices mentioned above, I might have succeeded at an even higher level. There were times that I felt like dropping out, and only the military draft, the threat of being sent to Vietnam, kept me in school. I wound up getting a degree in music that I only used tangentially to earn a living until I left the field entirely at age thirty. Professor Kirp’s book is one all college professors and administrators should read and consider. After all, in corporate parlance, students are the “business” of higher education. They should be given every opportunity to succeed.
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