In his new book, “The College Dropout Scandal,” noted public policy scholar David Kirp takes on America’s “higher education’s dirty little secret,” namely the low graduation rates that see only 60 percent of incoming freshman receiving diplomas within six years.
The low national numbers, however, are contrasted by Cal State Long Beach’s successful boosting of its grad rates by “250 percent over the course of a generation,” he wrote.
“[It’s] an accomplishment matched by few other schools,” Kirp wrote. “This record becomes even more noteworthy when you realize that, during these years, the university enrolled more poor and minority applicants -- 80 percent of the students are African American or Latino, and nearly half receive federal Pell Grants -- many with weaker high school credentials than the earlier generation of students."
President Jane Close Conoley said many people were responsible for the university’s success.
“It is gratifying to see the hard work of our faculty, staff and Long Beach Promise partners recognized,” said Conoley. “The immediate and long-term benefits to our schools and communities has been substantial, and these results further strengthen our commitment. While there is always more to be done, being acknowledged for our work and its positive results lets us know we are on the right track.”
Kirp, a UC Berkeley emeritus professor of public policy, said a direct line can be drawn between Cal State Long Beach’s success and its role in The Long Beach Promise. When it was kicked off a little more than a decade ago, the unique initiative teaming Long Beach’s K-12 schools, Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach was designed to ensure the success of students enrolled in preschool through Ph.D., and revitalize the city’s well-being and long-term economic outlook.
Since then, the nationally recognized initiative has been copied elsewhere, and the city as well as its various public education institutions are seeing vast improvements.
“The headline news comes from Long Beach State, widely known as ‘The Beach,’ where, incredibly, the graduation rate increased two-and-a-half times, from 26 percent in 1999 to 67 percent in 2017,” Kirp wrote. “The university has turned into a go-to school. With nearly 100,000 applicants, the seventh-highest number nationwide, it could admit a class composed entirely of students with 24-karat credentials. Instead, it accepts local students with substantially weaker grades and SAT scores. Those students are likelier to graduate than their classmates from outside the region. “
That level of continued improvement and success has some people asking why shouldn’t Cal State Long Beach aim to play in the same game as the UC schools and elite private universities.
“We don’t want to be Harvard,” Provost Brian Jersky told Kirp, “and we couldn’t be Harvard, even if we only admitted the top people. And Harvard can’t be us. We don’t want to play in that pool—we can’t. We want to be the best in our pool, and we think we are.” In a recent study of universities that operate as engines of social mobility, Long Beach State ranked among the nation’s best in moving students from poverty into the middle class.”
Kirp’s book highlights the work being done throughout the California State University system, as it pushes to improve graduation rates through the restructuring of curriculum. This is important, he noted in an interview with EdSource, because of the distinct role the CSU plays in the state.
“If all the University of California alums disappeared for a day, we’d soldier on,” he said. “If all the Cal State graduates disappeared for a day, this state would stop. Traffic lights wouldn’t work, the weather system wouldn’t work, there’d be no one teaching in the classrooms. There’d be no police, fires would just be burning. The Cal States are California.”