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ERIC Number: ED509617
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Apr-20
Pages: 28
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
The Attrition Tradition in American Higher Education: Connecting Past and Present. Working Paper 2010-01
Thelin, John R.
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
In July 2009, President Barack Obama set out a bold higher education agenda for his administration and promised that the U.S. would once again lead the world in college degree attainment. Given the nation's current level of college completion, it is reasonable to wonder whether such ambitions are feasible. While there is a sense that the country needs to recreate the "Golden Age" of American higher education, where high completion rates were the norm, few have bothered to ask whether this era was actually as golden as the conventional wisdom would suggest. In one of the few efforts to examine this question, John R. Thelin, research professor at the Education Policy Studies School at the University of Kentucky and author of "A History of American Higher Education" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), reevaluates the idyllic image of university life in an earlier period and uncovers the historical roots of America's "attrition tradition." Thelin finds that not only did university students often drop out at a high rate in the early 1900s, but also that college attrition was largely ignored until the last few decades. If we are to tackle the challenge of raising graduation rates in an era of increased access--a strikingly modern goal--it will require fine-grained, institution-level analysis, Thelin argues, in addition to significant investments in improved data systems for America's colleges and universities. Using detailed cohort tracking data and a seasoned historical perspective on the origins of today's "war on attrition," this AEI working paper should give pause to ambitious completion promises and prod university leaders to reflect on their own performance data to map a better course for serving students. As Thelin notes, without an accurate sense of how far we have come in our higher education aspirations--and how difficult and costly it has been to get there--we cannot strategically plot the road ahead. (Contains 1 figure, and 39 endnotes.)
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Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research