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Commentary: Is this what we are paying Mizzou to do?

graphic about college degrees
From the Beacon archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 7, 2012 - The public policy question raised by the chart below  is whether Missouri taxpayers want to be party to a system that takes young people’s money and leaves them in debt with no degree.

Missouri’s young people need college degrees and the state of Missouri needs more graduates, yet 1,900 of the 6,200 young people who enter the University of Missouri-Columbia* each year as debt-free college freshman leave as in-debt college dropouts. 

Why do so many students leave before graduating? Who is responsible? What are the consequences?

One thing to consider is Mizzou's mission statement:

“Our distinct mission, as Missouri's only state-supported member of the Association of American Universities, is to provide all Missourians the benefits of a world-class research university. We are stewards and builders of a priceless state resource, a unique physical infrastructure and scholarly environment in which our tightly interlocked missions of teaching, research, service and economic development work together on behalf of all citizens. Students work side by side with some of the world's best faculty to advance the arts and humanities, the sciences, and the professions. Scholarship and teaching are daily driven by a sense of public service — the obligation to produce and disseminate knowledge that will improve the quality of life in the state, the nation and the world.”

As the governor and legislature budget taxpayer money for higher education, should they focus on the dropout issue?

Should they consider how dropouts affect the state, as well as the students?

A recent report by the American Institutes for Research says, “Students who start college but do not graduate incur large personal expenses. They pay thousands of dollars in tuition, they likely take out loans, they change their lives, but they fail in one of the most important goals they have ever set for themselves. In the meantime, taxpayers pay billions of dollars in grants and state appropriations to support these students as they pursue degrees they will never earn.” –The High Cost of Low Graduation Rates: How Much Does Dropping Out of College Really Cost? August 2011

*The data shown are from only the University of Missouri Columbia. The graduation rate at Missouri University for Science and Technology is 66 percent, compared to 69 percent at UM Columbia, so the analysis would not be affected by adding MUST. UMKC and UMSL are not comparable because so many of their students are transfers.

Note: The article was originally posted with four-year figures, not the six-year figures LaSala preferred, as longer period are used in official statistics. The university's mission statement was also added at that time.

Sources: College Navigator, a project of the National Center for Education Statistics of the Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education. American Institutes for Research, “The High Cost of Low Graduation Rates: How Much Does Dropping Out of College Really Cost?” August 2011 Education Sector, “Degreeless in Debt: What Happens to Borrowers Who Drop Out” February 2012 Complete College America, “New Thinking for the New Majority” 2011 Annual Convening Institute for Higher Education Policy, “Delinquency: The Untold Story of Student Loan Borrowing” March, 2011 St. Louis Business Journal, “University of Missouri welcomes record number of freshmen” August 23, 2010 Missouri Institute of Science and Technology, “A cut above - a record freshman class shines in many ways” August 14, 2009 University of Missouri website March 28, 2012

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