60% of New Jersey Students Enrolled in Four-Year Colleges Don't Graduate in Four Years

Today’s NJ Spotlight features a good analysis of college completion rates which is, after all, one of the  primary drivers behind higher-level standards and assessments.  Unless you live in Camden or Newark or Trenton, New Jersey parents tend to feel confident about their children’s preparation for college and careers.

So what happens when they get there?

There’s been a fair amount of attention paid to remediation rates at N.J.’s community colleges. JerseyCAN notes that among students enrolled in N.J.’s two-year colleges, 70% required remedial coursework after failing at least one subject on the college placement test called AccuPlacer. But most parents assume that students admitted to N.J.'s public and private four-year colleges are ready for college-level coursework.

But many, according to NJ Spotlight, are not: "In New Jersey, about 4 in 10 students attending four-year colleges graduated with a bachelor's degree from the college where they initially enrolled within four years in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics."

In other words, 60% of N.J. students enrolled in four-year colleges didn't graduate with a bachelor's degree within four years.

Some N.J. colleges have dreadful college completion rates. For example,
The Jersey City campus of University of Phoenix, a national for-profit school, reported 2 percent of students earned a degree in four years in 2013, according to the NCES' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Among the state colleges, New Jersey City University, also in Jersey City, had a four-year completion rate of just 6 percent.
But here’s what surprised me.  Among students attending The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in Ewing, a great school that is rated “more selective” in admissions by U.S. News and World Report and Princeton Review, college completion rates are still relatively low: about 74%.  In other words, one out of four students at this selective school can’t graduate in four years. And TCNJ is "one of  only six public colleges and universities [in the country] that maintain graduation rates of greater than 70%."

Despite stellar high school records -- average G.P.A. of admitted students is  B+ or better, average SAT scores are 1750 or higher, ACT composite scores are 25 or better -- a significant portion of these top N.J. students still struggle to graduate in four years.

Certainly there are non-academic reasons why students don’t graduate in four years, especially financial issues. But less than 1% of TCNJ students, according to TCNJ demographics, are considered economically disadvantaged; these students largely hail from suburban N.J. communities that take great pride in their public schools. (Other demographic info: 65% are white, 13% are Hispanic, 10% are Asian, and 5% are African-American,)

Students who graduate high school with B+ G.P.A.'s and high SAT scores think that they're ready for college coursework. That's certainly the message that our high schools send to families. But least a substantial fraction are not, and that's something to consider while we debate the need for higher-level standards and assessments that accurately gauge high school graduates' readiness for college and careers.

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