From RealClearPolitics, January 16, 2013

Raising College Graduation Rates Isn’t Enough

By Thomas Lindsay

Imagine this: A study shows that America’s automotive industry is producing cars that are defective in 36 percent of cases. How does the industry respond to the crisis? By announcing an initiative to build still more of said clunkers, but faster and cheaper. Like this solution? Then you’ll love the latest trend in higher education.

Across the country, a bipartisan chorus has arisen demanding an improvement in college graduation rates. This is reasonable. Roughly half of all entering students never finish college, and most of those who do graduate take longer than four years, which raises the cost of a degree not only for them but also for taxpayers, who subsidize higher education. Those who don’t graduate leave with the insult of personal failure added to the injury of student-loan debt, which, because they lack a degree, is harder to repay. Total student-loan debt now approaches one trillion dollars, which is more than credit card debt nationwide.

In an effort to boost graduation rates, 16 states have adopted or are moving toward adopting “outcomes-based funding,” under which a portion of state appropriations to public colleges and universities is allocated on the basis of each school’s achieving certain “outcomes.” The outcomes most emphasized revolve around graduation rates.

Though understandable, this focus on graduation rates threatens only to exacerbate a far-deeper crisis in American higher education: too many students today learn far too little in college. . . .