From 60 to 75 percent of college students change major at least once, depending on the region of the country and the schools they select. This greatly undermines the expectations that students should graduate in four years as well as public school beliefs that career tracks are important.
“G-O-T” or graduate-on-time is a common expectation of legislators and administrators. For several years, we have seen proposals across the United States for only providing state support for four years of public university education (in those states that are still providing some support to higher education). The presumption is that college students who take longer are malingering or partying down.
The fact that more students must now work while going to college has convinced some lawmakers that maybe we must allow students 5-and-a-half or six years to graduate. Use of the 6-year average generates graduation rates of roughly 75 percent for the selective private liberal arts colleges and 50 percent for public universities.
Community colleges graduate about 25 percent of students who wanted to pursue an Associate degree over any time period. And according to The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s Annual Report released in March, Kansas does have the highest rate of all states of students who complete a community college AA degree and then go on to finish a 4-year bachelors degree: 25.2 percent of the one-fourth.
In a second report released in July, The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center followed 3.6 million students who entered college in 2008 through 2014. Two-thirds or 2.4 million had transferred between colleges, and often more than once. Some sought easier or cheaper courses and some changed career paths.
Most states are now using retention and graduation rates to evaluate higher education institutions.
This migration of students and changes in major completely undermines these “performance-based funding” schemes and turns this system of rewards and penalties into nonsense.
What is not discussed in academia is the difficulty students face in deciding on a career.
The youngster who strolled down the streets of Laredo in the 1800's could easily walk among and observe the handful of jobs that were available in a Western town. Today the variety of job specialties numbers in the tens of thousands. Some children do not really know what their parent’s do at work.
Society is far more complex today. We isolate students in schools and few ever really know what goes on inside a hospital, courtroom, auto garage, factory, etc. In this aspect, our K-12 schools have become prisons, isolated from the world of work. Farm kids are probably the one significant exception, but they now make up less than one percent of the population.
Educators who assert that there are plenty of classroom materials and media on occupations, not to mention television shows, fail to recognize the ineffectiveness of these abstractions compared to real life experiences. Media images of police focus on the few minutes of adrenalin and ignore the hours of paperwork and routine interactions. The fact that most police retire without ever having fired their gun at a criminal does not match the false media image.
Henry David Thoreau observed in his time that: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Far too many people are stuck in jobs that they do not like. The “60-75 percent change majors” figure indicates how important it is for all universities to have a wide range of talented professors, each one promoting their subject as the most important discipline.
Universities are the setting where our students are mature enough to explore and discover their “goal in life.” Here is where you hear teachers advocate to students: find the job you love and you will never work a day in your life. You will want to go to work every day. And the paycheck is incidental.
Unfortunately, we are imposing career tracks in the K-12 curriculum in an attempt to leverage more student motivation to study. Ask little children what they want to be when they grow up and they may likely say princess or doctor or batman. “Career tracks” that attempt to channel students starting in middle school are well-intentioned but premature and destined to be ineffective. That is why 60-75 percent of college students change majors at least once.