200% Completion

(It’s a video game reference.)

Today I wanted to look at college completion and drop-out rates. This was brought on by seeing this site, which I was linked to by an old co-worker:


After you see the stats on the main page, just type in your favorite university at the top and take a look around. Not every feature works on every browser, but it’s fairly good overall.

It’s a rule of thumb right now that one third of the U.S. has a college diploma, one third has a high school diploma, and one third does not. I find that somewhat terrifying – the high school dropout rate in particular.

The dropout rate in my broad field, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), is even higher. Check out the PCAST Engage to Excel report (click here for a .pdf download), which I was lucky enough to see presented by one of its writers. Only about 40% of students who start off in STEM in college end up getting a degree there. We lose more STEM students to college courses than to high school courses.

Let me repeat that: We lose more scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technology folks in general… in college. Not in standardized high school courses that teach to the SATs and AP exams, but in college-level courses where there is greater freedom to innovate and more fascinating topics to explore. We lose most of them in the first year or two.

That is shameful. Downright shameful.

The reason, I think (and this is just opinion here), is inspiration. I’ve been in more high school courses where the teachers come in with a love for the material and an enthusiastic presentation, seeking to inspire their kids. Intro-level college courses are often boring and dry, with the promise of more methodical and boring stuff afterwards.

I admit that there may be something to say for the effect of the difficulty level gradient – I’ve never heard people say that they left the humanities or a business program because it was too hard, but I do hear that about science and mathematics. I also hear people say that they thought science would be interesting, but it turned into boring mush, whereas business was up-front about what business does.

Luckily, we all know how to teach better – we only need the desire to pull it off.

It’s odd to see colleges needing to pull inspiration from high schools – and even middle or grade schools – when it comes to keeping kids in STEM fields, but that’s what we need right now. We need inspiration, and so do our students.


About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on April 18, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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