How a focus on completion will change higher ed

'We haven't really addressed the drivers of higher postsecondary costs'

In an interview with The EvoLLLution, Paul Weinstein, director of Johns Hopkins University's graduate program in public management, discusses how the higher education industry needs to focus on the barriers to college completion.

According to Weinstein, three major factors can be attributed to low retention rates: cost of college, stress, and lack of preparedness. While colleges have implemented measures such as offering remedial courses and scholarships, Weinstein says they have yet to get to the root of barriers to completion, particularly living expenses.

"It's good that we're focusing on retention, but the solutions are not really addressing the core problems," Weinstein says.

Another obstacle to completion is that many students do not earn college credit for AP classes they took in high school. Weinstein says that many colleges accept very few, if any, AP credits.

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"The travesty of this is that we have more and more students taking AP exams, which is a good thing because college retention rates for students who take AP courses in high school is incredibly high," Weinstein says. "We should want students to be taking these AP courses and one way to incentivize that is to give them a credit when they excel."

Meanwhile, Weinstein says that online education has yet to prove whether it can support retention, as some online education advocates hoped.

"There is so much promise in MOOCS—these massive online courses that are arguably supposed to be relatively cheap—but we have to look at whether the students are getting the full benefit," he says. "I don't feel that we've seen the full impact of some of the technological changes that we're talking about when it comes to reducing cost. We haven't really addressed the drivers of higher postsecondary costs, either."

Weinstein predicts that in response to rising costs, more students will enroll in college part time and take more courses online. Students will also opt for more affordable community colleges as opposed to private institutions, putting the latter in jeopardy. But investing more funding in students isn't necessarily the answer, Weinstein says.

"Spending more on the current approach... that gives more aid to more and more students is not sustainable when you look at its cost of $350 billion and given current budgetary constraints," he says. "However, at some point, university presidents are going to need to come together and try to figure out what is the right approach for moving forward" (Weinstein, The EvoLLLution, 8/12).

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