3 myths about student success, debunked by the Gates Foundation

Misconceptions about today's college students and what it takes for them to succeed are holding students back, argues Dan Greenstein, director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In a recent blog post, Greenstein identified the three biggest myths—and busted them.

Myth #1: College is not for everyone

If college only means a four-year degree, then yes, college is not for everyone, Greenstein acknowledges. However, he argues college should be defined more broadly to include any postsecondary education, including everything from certificates to doctoral degrees.

By this standard, not enough people are going to college, Greenstein argues. He cites labor market predictions showing that by 2025, the United States is expected to have a deficit of 11 million credentialed workers. Instead of debating about whether people need college, Greenstein says we should be talking about the right type of postsecondary education for each person.

The tool that helped 450 colleges raise graduation rates by 8% on average

Myth #2: Students only drop out if they're lazy

The notion that students leave college because they were partying too hard is a "convenient and time-honored narrative," says Greenstein. The reality is that today's student population consists of what many refer to as "nontraditional" students. Greenstein points out that four in 10 students today are 25 and older, more than a quarter of them have families, almost two-thirds are working while attending school, and one-third of them are from households with incomes less than $20,000.

Myth#3: Race is no longer a barrier to a college degree

Greenstein acknowledges that the share of nonwhite students on college campuses has doubled across the last generation. But, he points out, there are still gaps in graduation rates among white and black students and white and Hispanic students. He argues is possible to close these achievement gaps and points to Georgia State University as an example. The institution has exponentially increased graduation rates for black, Hispanic, low-income, and first-generation students.

"When it comes to our students, mythology needs to give way to reality," Greenstein concludes (Greenstein, Impatient Optimists, 5/7). 

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