Reduce college dropout rates by only admitting qualified students

by Grace

One way to lower the college dropout rate is by providing extensive remediation and financial aid to students who struggle to stay in college.   Another way is by restricting admission and financial aid to students who are prepared to handle the course work.  Richard Vedder thinks the second option makes more sense.

College dropouts pay a heavy price, in both financial and opportunity costs.

There are two fundamentally different approaches to dealing with the problem. One says “let’s remove some of the problems that afflict today’s dropouts.” In particular, let us remove some of the educational and economic barriers that might enhance dropping out. Let’s give more financial aid to the low income student, for example, or more and better remedial education. In other words, let us spend money trying to alleviate some causes of dropping out.

The second approach is almost the opposite. Let us not accept into four year colleges students whose record suggest would have a very low probability of success. For example, students in, say, the bottom half of their high school graduating classes typically have a very low probability of graduating successfully in a reasonable time frame (four or five years) from college. Students with very low SAT (say a composite on the verbal and analytical sections of below 900) or ACT (say 18 or less) scores should not be admitted to four year schools. Indeed, it should be possible to devise a “probability of college success” index based on a combination of three factors: quality of the high school attended, high school rank, and scores on college admissions test.

Those failing to meet the admissions thresholds should be allowed to attend community colleges or non-degree schools offering certificated vocational training and, if they succeed there, be allowed to proceed to four year schools. This approach should not only reduce the dropout rate, it should save a good deal of money, both for students and taxpayers. It should reduce student loan repayment problems a bit, and lower loan delinquency rates.

Above all, a more restrictive admissions approach would in the long run reduce the mismatch between the availability of relatively high paying jobs and the numbers of college graduates seeking those jobs. We have too many college graduates, not too few.

Vedder argues this solution is not “anti-minority”.

The 1 DuPont Circle crowd (the higher education establishment’s lobbyists) would fight such a proposal tooth and nail. They would argue that it is anti-access, anti-minority. I would argue it would be a proposal for successful access and align student expectations more closely with potential outcomes. It would reduce enrollments and revenues for the colleges, forcing some needed creative destruction upon higher education.


Richard Vedder, ‘The Dalit of American Higher Education: The Social “Untouchables”‘, Forbes, 10/16/2014.

5 Responses to “Reduce college dropout rates by only admitting qualified students”

  1. Why should kids be explicitly penalized for the quality of their high school? That just sets in stone a grossly unfair situation.


  2. The vast majority of remedial students drop out of college, and kids who spend time in college without getting their degree are penalized in both time and money. It’s seems unfair any way it’s handled.


  3. I agree about remedial students, but a kid isn’t at remedial level just because he or she came from a bad high school, and I have encountered remedial students from good high schools too. So just cut the high school quality totally out of the measure.

    I feel strongly about this because my husband went to a bad high school, one that lost accreditation. His university refused to accept his one and only AP credit even though he had a 5 on the test, because of the abysmal reputation of the school. And why was it so bad? Because the Republican mayor of his town, a high school dropout himself, cut funding so much that it lost accreditation.


  4. “So just cut the high school quality totally out of the measure.”

    I agree, except that high school grades should not be used as a measure of college readiness without some way of adjusting for low standards. In the example you gave, an AP score is a good objective measure. SAT scores should also be used.



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