In Minnesota, as seen throughout the United States, college drop-out rates have stagnated over the years, though enrollment has increased. The University of Minnesota brings in a little more than 5,000 freshmen each year; however, it had an average annual freshmen retention rate of 87.2 percent from 2005-2008 — one of the lowest in the Big Ten.
With the market demanding that nearly 70 percent of workers attain higher educations by 2018, we need to increase the number of students who come back for the second year and reduce the overall drop-out rate as soon as possible. Experts often cite academic pressures and financial issues as reasons for dropouts. So how we minimize these factors?
One possible solution: cooperation between high schools and colleges. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talked about this integration while in Minneapolis last month. “Higher education can’t succeed without both engaging K-12 and improving K-12 … and also without having high school graduates come to college ready to succeed,” Duncan said, according to MPR. This requires both academic and financial preparation.
Fortunately, Minnesota is already working toward this issue. Both public and private colleges in the state are actively engaging students as young as 6th grade, getting them to start thinking about college. Academically, this engagement gives students an idea of what they need to accomplish to be college ready. Financially, it provides them and their parents a little more planning time.
The unique Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program also prepares students for college success. PSEO, found only in Minnesota and Ohio, allows high school juniors and seniors to pursue courses at a college or university for both high school and college credit. According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, during the 2007-08 school year, a total of 27,966 Minnesota high school juniors and seniors participated in PSEO. These students branched out and broadened their education, as well as gained college credit before graduating high school.
However, even after preparing students in high school and gaining admissions into college, this doesn’t ensure that they will graduate. Though 70 percent of Minnesota high school graduates go on to college, one in five drops out after a year. Freshmen year is truly a make or break time in a student’s college career because it is a transitional stage between the teen years and adulthood. To come out with a strong first year can be crucial to completing a degree. Luckily, some colleges and universities have been trying a more proactive approach with their support services. Both the University of Minnesota and MNSCU track students more intently than ever before, looking to catch at-risk students (academic and/or financial) before they drop out.
Minnesota schools are on the right track, but there is still more work to be done before we see significant changes in the drop-out numbers. Creating a strong link between secondary and post-secondary education prepares our students more thoroughly, ensuring they will not only get into college, but graduate.