Policies to Improve On-Time Graduation Rates
Many people incur a large amount of college debt because they spend more than four years in college. Only 50 of the more than 580 public four-year colleges have four-year graduation rates over 50 percent according to a USA Today article.
Breaking the 4-year myth: Why students are taking longer to graduate
At four year-public schools the average cumulative debt is around $27,000 for people who take six years to graduate, around $21,000 for people who take four years to graduate, and around $20,000 for people who graduate in three years. These figures do not include PLUS loans for parents. The article below has a more detailed discussion on how the amount of time it takes students to graduate impacts debt accumulated in college.
The importance of finishing college on time:
The issue of on-time graduation is intrinsically related to the issue of the quality of K-12 education, which is beyond the scope of the current memo. This post describes three narrower policies — (1) programs which improve AP exam pass rates, (2) guarantees of college credit for people who take and pass AP exams, and (3) funding for computer science and language camps and colleges prior to college.
Improving AP Exam Pass Rates:
The post below analyzed grades from the 20 most popular AP exams taken in 2016. The data covered results from over 4 million tests.
• The average grade was below a C on 14 out of 20 of the most popular AP exams.
• Around 1.9 million out of the 4.4 million test results were a D or F.
Policies which might improve AP Exam Performance
• Provide funds for students to take on-line or private taught AP exams in schools with low AP exam pass rates.
• Increase in-school AP course time for students taking AP exams. For example, people taking AP exams could have both the regular AP exam course and a second course emphasizing extra readings, labs and/or practice tests. (It may be possible to fund the second course with non-profit funds.)
• Change the content of some AP exams to cover a semester of college content rather than a full year of college content. (This was recently done with the AP Physics tests.)
• Create software that will evaluate AP exam workloads and provide advice on AP schedule, which could increase pass rates. (One goal of the software is to predict which people are likely to fail multiple AP exams and provide appropriate guidance.)
Guarantee the Award of College Credit for Students Passing AP Exams at Any School with Students Using Guaranteed Student Loans
Some major colleges have stopped or restricted awarding college credit to students in some or all AP courses.
This policy change will result in some students taking out thousands more dollars in student debt and losing substantial wage income.
Many states have passed laws requiring public universities and colleges give some credit to students passing AP exams. There are no such restrictions on private universities.
Students at virtually all private universities and colleges take out federally guaranteed student loans. Private schools denying AP credit to students passing AP exams often causes students to incur more federally-backed debt. The government should regulate credit awards when it impacts the financial exposure of students and taxpayers, guaranteeing debt.
Note: The faculty in the university of Pennsylvania chemistry and biology department found that some students who skipped the introductory courses fared worse than students who took the introductory course on upper level courses. The faculty did not publish a paper documenting the extent and the significance level of the future performance differential. Such a paper would also determine whether students with an extremely high grade on the AP exam performed worse in upper level courses if they skipped the introductory level.
The issue of lower performance on upper-level chemistry and biology courses for people who place out should not prevent the school from giving people who passed AP exams with a grade of 4 or a grade of 5 s credits. The faculty should be able to fix performance issues in upper level course by adding some review material or by creating a one credit problem solving class.
The issue as I see it is that the faculty at Penn would rather their students take on thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of dollars in additional debt and forego a year of wage income rather than do a little bit of work and figure out how to more efficiently transmit their valuable knowledge. The article on college debt including a quote from a Penn faculty member stating that college students would prefer a fifth year of college rather than graduate early. This preference is not surprising. College is fun and students don’t consider the full costs of repaying their loans or the cost of loan forgiveness to taxpayers. The Penn faculty should be more focused on the long term economic needs of their students rather than their short-term fun.
Expand resources for teaching of computer science and language prior to college:
In general, most school districts are focused on teaching the basic subjects – math, history, English and the sciences.
There is a shortage of students ready to enter STEM fields and in students trained in certain languages. In 2015, fewer than 60,000 people graduated with a bachelor degree in computer science. Relatively few high schools offer computer courses. Computer science is not generally a required subject. There is a shortage of qualified language teachers in many schools
There are two ways to improve education of computer science and language.
• Allow private firms to teach these schools in public and charter schools to take advantage of economies of scale. (This approach would improve outcomes at schools with modest budgets, which are struggling to fund basic subjects.)
• Fund scholarships at summer camps specializing in language and computer science. (This approach helps students at lower and middle income students who cannot currently afford expensive camp-based educational programs outside of school.)
The Trump Administration with the support of major tech companies are moving to support STEM education efforts outside the class room.
Concluding Remarks: One reason some student borrowers incur too much debt is that they fail to graduate on time. Policies that improve on-time graduation rates will reduce college debt.
Some colleges do a better job in educating students, helping students find a job and having students graduate on time than other colleges. Students and their parents need information on college quality and educational outcome prior to selecting a college. The last essay describes rules requiring colleges provide additional information to students and parents.
Proposal Seven: Improving Information for Consumers of Education