John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

One More Pressure Point on Retention

John N. Gardner

I have been trying to drive a higher education reform agenda on the beginning college experience for the primary reason of helping needy new college students and improving the educational quality of the first-year experience. However, everything keeps coming back to retention as the primary reason we should be doing anything for new students.

One example is the announcement by the President in the State of the Union Address that the government would be examining the issue of excessive tuition increases in colleges and universities. Even though the right thinks that all of us in the academy are much more to the left of center, we can be certain that the President’s announcement of Federal scrutiny of what we charge our students was not warmly greeted by college leaders.

This matter of what college costs is inextricable from retention and graduation rates. In order to get costs down, we have to get those rates up to decrease time-to-degree completion costs.

I write about this here with my primary intended audience being those who are responsible for or working in any initiatives that are connected on campuses to this retention agenda. It is always a challenge to make sure that front line troops get the big picture. What is the larger national context for the importance of our work? And what might be the latest external pressures that could bear on our work. And this external pressure is potentially a big one.

Perhaps the saving grace for colleges and universities will be that in this climate anything the President wants that could help him get reelected will be blocked by the “loyal minority” in the Congress. However, this issue could end up being truly bipartisan as there are plenty of Republican voters that also want to see college tuition rates decrease.

One bottom-line conclusion here I think we can all agree on is that this issue is just one more to make our work improving the success of new students even more important. I have always maintained that this work is in the national interest.

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