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Editorial: Public college grading system is black and white

Last Modified: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 7:12 PM

The head of the University of Louisiana System says the way public universities are graded is unfair.

System President Sandra Woodley said judging universities by their graduation rates does not take into account those universities’ missions and student populations, nor extenuating circumstances that cause students not to graduate on time.

Federal and Louisiana formulas track the percentage of students who graduate within six years of entering the university. In this black-and-white model, the university is penalized for anyone who takes longer than six years to graduate.

Woodley is proof positive. Married at age 18, it took her 10 years to earn her baccalaureate degree from Auburn University’s satellite campus in Montgomery, Ala.

“With two young children, I did most of my college at night,” she recently told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “I was a failure in every graduation statistic.”

Yet, she went on to earn a master’s degree from Auburn and a doctorate degree from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Woodley worked as a strategic planner and chief financial officer for the Arizona Board of Regents, vice president of finance, planning and performance for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, associate executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, and vice president of the University of Texas System.

Some failure. She now heads the University of Louisiana System, which oversees nine universities in our state, including McNeese State University.

Woodley also said the grading system does not take into account students’ ambition and motivation. She said it was unfair to use the same standards to judge McNeese and LSU.

She said the University of Texas’ flagship campus at Austin attracts students who are “on a straight path” to graduation. Woodley said that’s not the case at the University of Texas campus in Tyler, which serves nontraditional students.

“We don’t want to make excuses about our performance, but when you look at performance, it has to be a fair fight,” she said. “You don’t want to punish schools for doing exactly what they are supposed to do.”

Or judge universities in black and white. Woodley is Exhibit A in the fallacy of doing so.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

Posted By: Ms. Johnson On: 12/11/2013

Title: Community Colleges are transfer and skill set colleges

I agree with Ms. Woodley, especially when it comes to community and technical colleges. Many community college students don't intend to graduate from that college, but rather their goal is to get most or all of their general education college credits behind them so they can transfer to a 4-year college. They don't stay to complete the Associates Degree.
The same is true for the vocational programs at technical colleges. Students come to the college with the goal of learning a specific skill set, not to complete a degree, and so they get the training they need for their job and move on without completing the degree or certificate program.
This is especially true for non-traditional students who are working adults. If they already have a job, or they can get a job with the college credit or skills they've gotten already, they won't spend time or money to stay and complete the degree.
Basing funding on the number of students who complete their degree at a specific college is not fair.

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