Not enough students are graduating from college, Education Reform Now Connecticut says.

Many of Connecticut’s four-year colleges have low graduation rates and some also charge low-income students considerably more than they would have to pay elsewhere, according to a report from the non-profit organization Education Reform Now Connecticut.

And some of the state’s 22 schools surveyed for this study have both issues at play.

“The takeaway from this study is that too many Connecticut students are simply not set up for success. Connecticut can and should do better by its students,” said Amy Dowell, state director for Education Reform Now Connecticut. “What’s concerning and what the report lays out is that if you are making that steep investment, and in Connecticut it’s very steep, and you’re not graduating, then the system is doubly stacked against you.”

The four schools that have both low rates of graduation for first-time, full-time students and charge an exceptionally high amount to low-income students compared to national peer schools are Southern Connecticut State University, University of Bridgeport, University of Hartford and Western Connecticut State University, according to the report.

Based largely on 2016 and 2017 federal data, the report found that three of Connecticut’s 22 four-year colleges consistently graduated fewer than half of their entire student bodies within six years of initial enrollment, and that seven schools consistently graduated fewer than half their minority populations in six years.

In addition, the report said that half of the colleges charge “an exceptionally high net price” to students from families with incomes of less than $30,000, with a dozen of those schools charging more than double what a national peer institution charged  comparable low-income students. A net price is the out-of-pocket charge to students and families after all grant aid is conferred.

“This data shows that our institutions of higher education are sometimes leaving our most vulnerable students worse off than before they enrolled. When we ask young people to take on debt without even earning the credentials that will allow for paying it off—that also has a compounding effect on our state economy,” said Dowell.

“Almost certainly, our institutions of higher education could do more to counsel these students and support them throughout their academic careers,” Dowell added. “But we can’t lose track of the underlying problem: namely, that our public school system isn’t producing graduates who are ready to succeed in college. It’s time for change.”

The non-profit organization, which is based in Westport, says it is focused on improving public education and protecting civil rights. It is the non-profit arm of Change Course CT PAC, which advocates for charter schools and supports Democratic candidates, and has a board of directors that is composed of finance industry executives, according to a 2018 Common Cause report.

Dowell said the group is also the local chapter of the national organization Education Reform Now and is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform in CT.

The report found that the six year graduation rates in 2017 for first-time, full-time students were 44.3% at Western;  41.6% at the University of Bridgeport; and 57.5% at the University of Hartford. At Southern Connecticut State University, the rate was 51.4% in 2016.

The net price in 2016, including tuition room and board, for students with family incomes of less than $30,000 was as follows:

  • $13,571 at Southern;
  • $15,556 at Western;
  • $22,361 at the University of Bridgeport;
  • and $26,271 at the University of Hartford.

In each case, the net price was well above that for peer schools, according to the report.

WCSU spokesman Paul Steinmetz said the higher price at Western is related to the university’s estimates of the higher cost for room and board and living expenses in Fairfield County.

He said that six-year graduation rates have been steadily climbing, hitting 49.6% in 2018 and 51.8% in 2019. He also noted that the school has initiated several programs to help boost retention and graduation rates, including academic help centers to assist in math and English.

Patrick Dilger, spokesman for SCSU, said that Southern has introduced a number of retention efforts to help students stay in college and graduate, including increasing the number of advisors, establishing new academic advising centers, and launching a program to provide additional supports for students of color who have been placed on academic probation. He noted that as a result of that program, 64% of participating students were removed from academic probation.

University of Hartford spokeswoman Meagan Fazio said the school has been investing heavily in programs that help all students succeed, such as adding a program that is specifically geared toward students who are the first in their families to attend college. She said more than 90% of students at the university receive some form of financial aid.

Fazio said the university found “some of the comparisons and conclusions in the report to be misleading.”

“The report’s authors compare our institution to institutions in other states where the state funding, demographics, institutional resources, etc. all vary dramatically,” she said in an email.

Dowell said the peer groups are drawn from data submitted by colleges to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and College Results Online (CRO).

The three colleges that consistently graduated fewer than half their students overall during the past three years were Mitchell College, the University of Bridgeport and Western Connecticut State University, which all had graduation rates between 40% and 45% in 2017.

The Connecticut four-year colleges that have for several years graduated fewer than half of their first-time, full-time minority students within six years of initial enrollment included Central Connecticut State University (40.9 % in 2017), Eastern Connecticut State University (42.2% in 2017), Mitchell College (24.5% in 2017), Southern Connecticut State University (43.5% in 2017), University of Bridgeport (34.5% in 2017), University of Hartford (43.9 % in 2017)  and Western Connecticut State University (37.1% in 2017).

By comparison, these institutions all graduate more than 60% of their minority populations within six years of initial enrollment: Connecticut College, Fairfield University, Trinity College, Wesleyan University, Sacred Heart University, Quinnipiac University, UConn, Yale, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

The Connecticut four-year colleges that had average net prices in 2016 for low-income students that are significantly higher than most of their peer institutions include: Albertus Magnus College ($24,902), CCSU ($13,002), Connecticut College ($15,498 in 2016); Quinnipiac University ($30,412); Sacred Heart University ($32,703); SCSU ($13,571); Trinity College ($14,221), University of Bridgeport ($22,361); University of Hartford ($26,271) and WCSU ($15,556.)

Kathleen Megan wrote for more than three decades for the Hartford Courant, covering education in recent years and winning many regional and national awards. She is now covering education and child welfare issues for the Mirror.

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13 Comments

  1. I am hoping this issue isn’t viewed solely from an “income vs tuition cost perspective”. One factor not mentioned here, is grade-level preparation of inbound high school graduates. Could our students be leaving before completing their degrees, due to inability to grasp college level subject matter? Are we forcing our children into a no win situation by artifically boosting high school graduation rates in our state? I’m not saying tuition costs are not high. What I’m saying is, the problem may be much broader, than just one of tuition or the cost of higher education.

    1. Selling high schools to their communities in self congratulatory statements of “92% of high school graduates are admitted to college” does nothing for students unprepared or not desiring a college education. We are setting up our children for debt and failure. These statistics are proof.

      1. Lets be “fair”. STEM subjects are far more challenging than traditional “soft subjects”. And teaching STEM subjects is similarly more challenging. Most grade/high school subjects prefer to teach the traditional “soft subjects”. Ditto for college teachers. Not surprising that students from higher income 2 parent families in wealthier towns are far more motivated to secure STEM focused degrees.

        That relatively few Blacks ever secure STEM focused educations is one of the reasons offered for the continuing wide disparities in income/wealth between Black and White facility units.

  2. There are no surprises here. All the colleges referenced in the article are not classified as an academic powerhouse. The low retention and graduation rates are a result of minimal admission criteria to gain entry into the college and the inability of the elementary and secondary school system to adequately prepare high school graduates for the academic rigors of the college curriculum. College admit the unprepared because they need the tuition and fee revenue to maintain their operations and keep the faculty, staff and administrators employed.

  3. Amazing…the private, selective schools and the public, selective R1 all do better at graduating members of underrepresented groups than the public and private non-selective universities. It is important to raise graduation rates, especially when the cost is high and so many students are saddled with debts that are much harder to pay off if one doesn’t graduate. I do wonder if all these Herculean efforts at retention, which every public, non-selective university is compelled to implement, help or hurt. If unprepared students (because it’s not just members of underrepresented groups who don’t graduate at 100% rates) are retained longer but are just squeaking through, will the experience benefit them? Will the debt of a full six years instead of two years be recoverable? Perhaps increasing selectivity based on preparedness would be better for those young adults. But see all the CT Mirror stories and viewpoints about enrollment…

    1. Other than public scorn there is no incentive to graduate students. The longer the students remains enrolled the tuition and fee revenue continues to fund the campus.

  4. Is it that CT colleges not delivering, or might it have more to do with their education up to that level has not been delivering?
    Or perhaps their home life prior to graduating high school?
    JMHO

    1. What are the “students” delivering to the colleges???? Not much; it appears. Also- It’s the colleges’ fault that these students are not prepared ????

    2. Most CT high school students do not secure advanced placements in math and science.
      And most do not secure 4 year college degrees. Despite billions spend on education in CT we aren’t graduating a STEM knowledgeable labor force. Helps explain our decade long stagnant economy.

  5. Where is the statement that we should have free college education for everybody? Isn’t that one of the promises by our current democrat politicians running for presidential office. Do you think people struggling to get a degree, is based solely on money. Maybe their preparation was not what it should have been. I think high schools should get back to teaching and worry less about being number one in sports. Let see a study that points to a particular high school graduation rate to college graduation rates and this will point to the underlying factors.

  6. I just read an article at timeshighereducation.com about the California State University system. A new policy was adopted regarding remediation, and the article says, “incoming CSU students are given more opportunities than a single test to demonstrate entry-level proficiency in mathematics and English. It then allows those students still requiring some remedial study to work on that while beginning their other regular college-level classes.” The article claims graduation rates are going up as a result. It might be interesting to look at this model.

  7. Is giving UCONN Profs $150k salaries and $100k + retirements part of the problem here.
    Or are we spending too much on public Colleges but not in our depressed cities schools.
    Or is it that in the hi-tech age CT lacks prominent STEM colleges.
    Or is it that few CT students take STEM subjects either in public school or in college.
    Or is that with few hi tech firms our best hi tech CT college grads leave CT.
    Or all of the above.

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