How To Fix A Graduation Rate Of 1 In 10? Ask The Dropouts
On San Jose State University's lush inner-city campus, students in their graduation gowns pose with their families in front of ivy-covered buildings.
They're the lucky ones.
Just 10 percent of students graduate from this public university in four years. After six years, it's only a bit more than half.
Think about that — of 100 students who enrolled four years ago, only 10 will walk across the stage this year.
That sounds low, but you can find these kind of numbers at lots of universities in the U.S.
What's not typical is how San Jose State is tackling the problem.
Up on the north side of campus, you'll find Marcos Pizarro on the second floor of Clark Hall. At 6 feet 2, he's nearly as tall as his tiny office is wide.
A professor of Mexican-American Studies, Pizarro has been at San Jose State for 17 years.
All that time, he says, he's heard the same explanation about why the graduation rate is so low. It goes like this: "Well, they're not as well prepared, and they have a lot of other commitments."
It's true, he adds, many students here do come from under-performing schools. Pizarro knows because he has taught in those schools.
And a lot of them work full-time jobs — both to pay for college and contribute to their families.
Yet, Pizarro adds, something else is true too: "They're amazing. They're really phenomenal." In class, he says, these students are some of the most engaged, motivated and insightful people he's worked with.
So, why aren't they graduating?
When Pizarro started looking at the data, he found that San Jose State's graduation rate is bad for all students. But for Latinos it's really bad. Just 4.5 percent graduate in four years. African-Americans do only slightly better.
Pizarro couldn't let this go. The more he thought about it, the more he realized he needed to talk to those students. Not the graduates. But the ones who left.
"We don't do exit interviews," Pizarro said. "It's not just us. Nobody does exit interviews with students."
Pizarro and a few colleagues got a grant, and they started calling up hundreds of San Jose State dropouts, with a focus on Latino and African-American students.
'I Was Depressed'
"A lot of times their first response is, 'Oh well, I kinda gave up.' Or, 'I didn'tHow To Fix A Graduation Rate Of 1 In 10? Ask The Dropouts : NPR Ed : NPR: