Boosting College Graduation Rates

Low-income students who make it to college have an unfortunate tendency not to graduate, and as Monica Potts writes we know some things that work to turn this around:

A new program at the University of North Carolina pairs low-income students with faculty and peer mentors, monitors their grades, and instills them with basic job-hunting skills like business etiquette. Graduation rates for program participants were 17 percent higher than for students in the control group. Low-income students simply need more resources, and that’s as true for students at the college level as it is for those in elementary and high school. The kinds of schools most likely to serve lower-income students, though, often have the fewest resources. And state-level higher-education funds are vulnerable as states shrink their costs in a difficult budgetary environment.


It’s worth underscoring how perverse the allocation of resources inside American higher education is. We expend the most time, money, and effort on helping the set of high school graduates who need the least help, even though these very same people tend overwhelmingly to come from families who have the most resources (in terms of both money and social capital) with which to help them. It’s nuts.

This is a model you use to try to churn out Olympic medal winners. It doesn’t matter how good the average American is at gymnastics, only how good our very best athletes are. So you ruthlessly sort young gymnasts and invest the most training resources in the most promising cohorts. Then you get your medals. But from the point of view of education policy or private charitable giving this doesn’t make a ton of sense. Resources should be invested in children whose parents lack resources and average levels of human capital matter a great deal.