Poll: Public blames grad rates on college students

Republicans are likelier than Democrats to blame federal officials for today's college graduation rates.

The public pins most of the blame for poor college graduation rates on students and their parents and gives a pass to colleges, government officials and others, a new Associated Press-Stanford University poll shows.

All sectors of American higher education received high marks for quality. That extends to for-profit colleges, despite recent criticism of dubious recruiting tactics, high student loan default rates and other problems at some schools.

The belief that students are most at fault for graduation rates is a troubling sign for reformers who have elevated college completion to the forefront of higher education policy debates and pushed colleges to fix the problem, said Michael Kirst, professor emeritus of education and business administration at Stanford.

“The message is, ‘Students, you had your shot at college and failed and it’s your fault, not the college,'” Kirst said.

When asked where the blame lies for graduation rates at public four-year colleges, 7 in 10 said students shouldered either a great deal or a lot of it, and 45 percent felt that way about parents.

Others got off relatively easy: Anywhere between 25 percent and 32 percent of those polled blamed college administrators, professors, teachers, unions, state education officials and federal education officials.

“We’re all responsible for our own education, and by the time you get to college you are definitely responsible and mature,” said Deanna Ginn, a mother of 12 from Fairbanks, Alaska.

Taking a closer look at the numbers:

• Republicans are likelier than Democrats to blame federal officials for today’s college graduation rates — 34 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of Democrats point at them.

• There’s a small partisan difference on the student blame question: Seventy-seven percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats fault students heavily.

• Minorities are more prone than whites to blame professors and teachers for college graduation rates, with 40 percent of minorities but just 29 percent of whites doing so.

• Fifty-seven percent of minorities blame parents for college graduation rates, while just 40 percent of whites do.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, assistant professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the results are deeply troubling and mean elite colleges and universities have succeeded in diverting blame from themselves.

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