Obama's College Graduation Goals Are Impossible

In the next decade, President Obama wants to raise America's college graduation rate to 60%. Currently, just over 40% of Americans aged 25-34 have college degrees. That means a lot of new college students will have to be added to the system, and soon. In fact, there is no hope of this being achieved.

This Inside Higher Ed piece on a new survey of American community college directors sums up the issue nicely:

Community colleges will have to do much of the heavy lifting to achieve the ambitious college degree attainment goals that President Obama and powerful foundations are pushing. Selective private colleges and state flagship universities don't have room for much enrollment growth. So an increase in graduates will likely require more students starting at community colleges and transferring to regional public universities and flagships, according to the report.

Eight million new college graduates aren't going to go through colleges that are already popular and full; they simply don't have the room. Those students will have to go through community colleges. With that in mind, let's review where we stand today: 75% of college students are part-time, and less than a quarter of those students are able to get a bachelor's degree in eight years. Since Obama has us on a ten-year plan, that will have to change, and quick!

Barring a watering-down of community and state college standards to the point of farce, the only way that this huge increase in graduation could be achieved so fast would be through a massive increase in funding for community colleges. Currently, community college systems from New York to California are so overloaded with applicants that they're forced to turn away thousands each year. Of those who do get in, a huge portion drop out before they ever get a degree. For Obama's goal to be achieved, America would, in short order, have to significantly increase not only the admission capacity of our community college and public four-year college system, but also its graduation rate.

And what are the chances of that happening? Zero. According to the latest survey of state community college directors from all 50 states, tuition is going to rise in most states; "29 respondents predict flat-funding or cuts in their state-student financial aid programs;" Pell Grants are being cut; and state operating budgets "are predicted to be cut in 75% of responding states."

So with smaller budgets and less financial aid, our overstressed public college system is expected to not only reverse its current abysmal graduation rate trends, but to absorb, educate, and graduate millions more students above and beyond current enrollment rates, all in the next ten years. In the midst of a recession.

It ain't gonna happen. The good news is, it probably wasn't such a worthwhile goal to begin with.

[Image via AP]