Friday, 20 March 2009

Number 8) College Completion Incentive Fund

A great deal of time and money has been spent over the years trying to encourage more young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to attend a four year university. On the whole, these efforts have been fairly successful - yet the proportion of you people with a college degree is much lower for my generation than for the generations before. How can this be true? Well, the simple answer is that an unacceptably high percentage of the people who start college drop out without finishing.

Just 54 percent of students entering four-year colleges in 1997 had a degree six years later — and even fewer Hispanics and blacks did, according to some of the latest government figures. After borrowing for school but failing to graduate, many of those students may be worse off than if they had never attended college at all.
Children from poorer families are more likely to drop out, as are minority children. However, drop out rates do not appear to be predestined - some colleges do a good job of keeping these kids in through their degree, others don't.

In his State of the Union Address, Obama's big "let's go to the moon" moment was a pledge that, "By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. That is a goal we can meet." Curently, we are 12th on this metric if you include adults from 25-34 with either a batchelors or associates degree (we do better if you include everyone up to the age of 64, but that's because other countries were further behind us then - they've recently caught up and surpassed us).

Obama's budget creates a $2.5 Billion Completion Incentive Fund to allow colleges to adopt the techniquest that have been successful at high-graduation schools.

Why does this matter? Well, leaving aside the social justice argument that poorer kids should have more chances to raise themselves up than they currently have, this program fulfills a very practical need: we aren't producing enough doctors, teachers, scientists or engineers to meet the countries needs today, let alone for the future. If this money can help even a fraction of the 46% of students who don't graduate to actually complete their degrees, it will buy us a downpayment on that future. Money well spent.


christine said...

I grew up from a poor background and was the only one to finish my 4 year degree. I had to do it without help from my parents and ended up with a student loan debt up to wazoo.

What would help is more grants and less loans offered by the government.

Obama London said...

Hi Christine - agreed for sure. Especially if the grants can be targetted to people who are the first in their families to attend university. Unfortunately, I am hearing horror stories right now from the States about private sector colleges cutting back on exactly this type of scholarship - so many of them were relying on their invested endowments for operational costs, and have been wiped out. All the more reason for the government to step in, but state budgets are also squeezed putting further burden on the federal gvt to do it all. It's so huge - I'm just glad Obama seems determined not to give up on healthcare and education as key priorities.