Following a mandate from President Obama for the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college credentials by 2020, the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment, an 18-member panel from the nation’s six leading higher-education associations, released today an open letter to colleges and universities subtitled “College Completion Must Be Our Priority.”
Anyone in higher education understands that we are in a different academic world where the “traditonal” 18- to 21-year old residential student is no longer the majority. The present, typical student is older, has tranferred with credits from at least one college (the majority of all undergraduates have attended at least two or more colleges), and likely is part-time. The academic needs of these students must be recognized as distinctively different from “traditional” 18-year-old freshmen entering college directly from high schools. Many have jobs, family commitments, and personal economic challenges that impact their college choices, enrollment in courses offered during working hours, financial aid eligibility and time to graduation. As a result it is no longer sensible to rely on 4-year completion rates to measure success when the majority of students are part-time and therefore cannot earn a degree within a 4-year period. The important statistic is not how long it takes a student to earn a degree but that a degree has been earned – even if it takes 6 or 8 years.
The commission report urges colleges and universities to offer credit through: examination, such as the College Board’s College-Level Examinaion Program (CLEP); portfolio assessment (Prior-Learning or Life-Experience); and other college equivalency evaluations. It also suggests flexibility in course offerings (on-line; independent studies; internships) and easier transfer of credits.
CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisiplinary Studies has been fuflfilling the commission’s recommendations for decades. It offers flexibility in credit transfer, non-classroom credits (CLEP; Life Experience Portfolios; Military Credits); internships, independent study, academic fellowships for both full and part-time students and personal advising by a professional staff and faculty mentoring of individualized majors resulting in consistent graduation rates of 75%, with the majority graduating with academic honors and continuing to graduate programs.
Although our graduation rate far exceeds the norm it is still only a “C” grade. We should not be satisfied with simply an average grade but must continue to do everything we can to retain even more students to earn their degrees. We at CUNY BA will not be satisfied until we are approaching a 100-percent graduation rate, whether it takes 2 or 20 semesters.