Ohio's Leaky College Pipeline

Ohio’s college pipeline has sprung a leak--and both high schools and colleges are struggling to make good on the promise to educate (and graduate) their students. That was the message gleaned from the recent ACT Ohio conference and a compelling keynote address by the Education Trust’s director (and 2007 Fordham Prize winner) Kati Haycock.

The challenges facing the state’s high schools are plain to see. Just 45 percent of Ohio students taking the ACT and graduating in 2006 scored well enough on the math portion to succeed in college level algebra (see here). This figure drops to 32 percent for Hispanic students and 13 percent for African Americans. Only 24 percent of test-takers scored well enough on all four sections (English, math, reading and science) to be deemed fully ready for college (compared to 15 percent of Hispanics and 4 percent of African Americans). Too many Ohioans never graduate from high school at all. In 2003, Ohio's graduation rate was just 73 percent for all students--and 51 percent for African Americans (see here).

For those who do graduate, the rising cost of college in the Buckeye State may still place a postsecondary degree out of reach. In 2006-07, tuition at Ohio’s four-year universities was 47 percent higher than the national average; tuition at two-year colleges was 54 percent higher (see here). Such inflated prices can, in part, be traced back to Ohio’s lower subsidy of higher education, compared to other states. Ohio ranks 40th among the 50 states for its per-student higher education appropriation. In 2005, it contributed just $0.34 for every dollar of federal Pell grants to low-income students (the median of the five most generous states was $0.82 per dollar--see here).

Assuming students do matriculate, lackluster success rates (determined by students’ degree attainment) are a troublesome legacy for many universities. Just 36 percent of Ohio’s first-time, full-time freshman (in fall 1999) went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree after four years; that figure rose to just 56 percent after six years. Minority students fare much worse, with just 17 percent graduating in four years, and 36 percent after six. Ohio University had some of the highest success rates among state public universities, graduating 70 percent of all students and 69 percent of its under-represented minority students over six years in 2004. The Ohio State University’s main campus posted an overall six-year success rate of 62 percent and graduated 47 percent of it minority students. The University of Akron graduated just 35 percent overall, and only 18 percent of its minority students over six years (see here).

Many initiatives to improve such dismal figures focus on high schools, and rightly so. The recently passed Ohio Core, for instance, will hopefully ensure that students are much better prepared for the demands of college coursework. And the creation of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) system of schools, if done sensibly (see here), could very well offer students valuable opportunities to pursue a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. But one thing was made clear by Ms. Haycock and others at the recent ACT Ohio conference. To mend and strengthen the state’s college pipeline, colleges and universities will need more attention (and scrutiny) from policymakers and the general public, particularly in the areas of student access, retention and success--not to mention overall value for student (or parent) and taxpayer dollars.

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July 11, 2006
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