EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

June 23, 2013

State aims to tie aid to grad rates

(Continued)

Research by Complete College America and others shows that taking a full complement of courses helps speed up graduation. Yet 72 percent of full-time community college students nationwide, and 30 percent of students at four-year universities, take fewer than the recommended 24 credits in their freshman years, and quickly fall behind, Complete College America reports.

The Massachusetts program so far involves a modest 2,000 of the 44,000 annual recipients of state grants, no-interest loans and tuition waivers. It will run on this small scale until 2016, when the results will be analyzed, officials said.

State officials and many experts caution that it’s unrealistic to expect every college student to graduate. Some find college isn’t for them. Others may drop out to start a business, they say.

Raising graduation rates, however, has become a goal of federal and state politicians, employers and foundations worried about a potential shortage of college-educated workers.

In Massachusetts, about half of residents have associate’s degrees or higher, a number Complete College America says will have to rise to 70 percent by the end of this decade to meet the expected demand.

Low graduation rates are already taking a significant economic toll, according to calculations by the American Institutes for Research, or AIR. A single class of students it studied nationwide, who started four-year universities and colleges in 2002 but never graduated, has lost out on a collective $3.8 billion in lifetime income, the institute estimates.

There are also concerns that, with pressure to curb government spending, financial-aid programs will be vulnerable to budget cuts if they can’t be shown to boost graduation rates.

Some in academia, however, worry that a single-minded focus on graduation rates could force universities to significantly ease degree requirements, or accept only those applicants who are most likely to graduate, rather than taking risks on seemingly marginal students with potential.

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