13 August 2010

Statistics: Part Three

 I have been espousing the notion that the University of Puerto Rico is largely a day-care center for overindulged lazy teenagers and 20-somethings. That the best course to improve the university (not anywhere near a priority in My book, but for the sake of argument) is to simply cut enrollment in half and let the rest go out and do something with their lives (aside from suckling at the welfare tit. We may dream.)

Here are some statistics on the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus, the "main" campus, as in "largest of Our 'adultgardens'":

Four-year graduation rate 9.9%
Five-year graduation rate 31.5%
Six-year graduation rate 45.2%

Uh, come again? Less than 10% graduate in 4 years, a little over 31% in five and barely 45% graduate in 6 years? Six freaking years?

For comparison, here are the University of Mississippi's statistics:

Four-year graduation rate 32.5%
Five-year graduation rate 50.6%
Six-year graduation rate 55.7%

Now Ole Miss is definitely no great shakes as an institution of higher learning: just check out My first blog GCSPrank Is Here for some personal perspective on that. Ole Miss is a middling piddling university best known for racial tension, but even it can graduate more than half of its students in 5 years. The UPR can't do that in 6 years.

Is it because Ole Miss is selecting a better quality of students? Compare their freshman SAT Verbal and Math scores:

Ole Miss: Median SAT Verbal: 510; Median SAT Math: 515
UPR/RP: Median SAT Verbal: 594; Median SAT Math: 610

UPR pretty much smokes the faux-gentility up in Oxford, especially when you consider that the SAT is in English, a language We as a people dominate the way Israelis understand diplomacy without hidden agendas. So what's going on? The freshman retention rate in UPR is 90%, while at Ole Miss it is 78%. Maybe that means that the losers are getting out of Oxford faster than they do from Río Piedras. But wait: although the transfer rate from Ole Miss is unknown, that of the UPR is a mere 2.3%. Any way you slice this, it means that the vast majority of students that enter UPR stay there...and most of those don't graduate.

Could it be that the UPR is "tougher" than Ole Miss? Check out the graduation rates for Harvard, Yale, Stanford or M.I.T.: they're all well into the 90s in percentages. So by that standard, Ole Miss is more successful and that "tougher" label is for the birds.

No, what We have is a university that serves as a halfway house for Our socioeconomic orphans, one where they can spend 6, 7, 8 even 10 years in an extended excuse for an incubator that is half bar hopping and half social club. The other half is left over for education.

Maybe there's another factor at work: 58% of  the UPR students receive Pell Grants while only 18% of Ole Miss students do. Well, there is more money in Mississippi (income per capita/median income) than in Puerto Rico, but when more than half your students are on the education dole, doesn't that substantially change how they view the educational experience? It becomes not a matter of a degree, but of "easy money."

As for the rest of Us, why should We care? That money's coming from Uncle Sam, not Our taxes, so in essence, it's free money. Whee!  But money is never handed out without strings attached to it, and what We have in Puerto Rico is free money masking a problem with Our educational system, Our economy and Our potential for success as a nation.

Our educational system largely produces a student incapable of properly completing a college degree and even more incapable of attending a university anywhere else.

Our economy has been unwilling and incapable of creating more jobs and establishing a stronger platform for entrepreneurship to absorb the thousands of teenager and young adults for whom college is truly not an option.

Our future is anchored in a revolting ditch of political demagoguery, stupid conformity and willful ignorance that makes addressing vital issues a task akin to herding cats who are either (a) comatose or (b) with their tails on fire.

Is an institution with a greater-than-50% failure rate worth propping up? Not in My book.

Is this the institution that will "lead" Us into a new Puerto Rico, as so many have postulated lately? It may have has that capability once, but it hasn't in many years...and won't do so anytime soon. A battle's best leaders never come--never will come--from the slothful and disengaged rear guard.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

P.S. For those who want to know how UPR-Mayagüez fares, here are the stats for that campus: Median SAT Verbal: 579; Median SAT Math: 627.  Four-year graduation rate: 6.1%; Five-year graduation rate: 25.5%; Six-year graduation rate: 44.6%. Apparently the bars and socializing in Mayagüez are not as good as those in Río Piedras...or maybe they're better.

[Update: 17 August 2010: From The New York Times Magazine, "What Is It About 20-Somethings?"]

[Update: 26 Sept 2010: From the recently-released book, Higher Education? (yes, with a question mark), by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, comes a quirky Top 10 list placing Ole Miss as the school offering the best undergraduate education per dollar in the country. Makes sense: a Division 1A state university in the state with the lowest income per capita in the nation. By those admittedly self-selected standards, the University of Puerto Rico should--should--top the list. I'm sure it doesn't even come close.]


Beato said...

Gil, I agree that we have stressed the importance of a college degree too much. A college degree has become the equivalent of a high school diploma. More emphasis should be given to trades. We have many chiveros, but these have poor professional skills such as a master plumber or a skilled carpenter.
However, do remember that UPR Mayaguez engineering programs are 5 years and include several advanced courses that can be used to advance a masters degree. Which makes it surprising that Mayaguez has such a relatively high passing rate at the 5 year level.
On other issues there is an old saying that says No One Flunks a Course Paid From Their Own Pocket.

GCSchmidt said...

Beato, I'm convinced a college degree nowadays, based on its cost, is a bad investment. It costs way too much for the supposed benefits it provides. There are better alternatives than the traditional college route and they merit exploring. Technical skills, such as what you mentioned, are a better option, but for-profit colleges are killing that segment, too, as they bilk students into taking out a ton of debt to pay for a degree.

I don't agree that Mayaguez has a lower graduation rate because it has a 5-year program. M.I.T. has a 5-year program and these are their numbers:

Four-year graduation rate 82.5%
Five-year graduation rate 91.7%
Six-year graduation rate 93.6%

Now some might say that comparing "el R.U.M." to M.I.T. is unfair, but I don't: ask NASA on how they match up talent-wise. The difference is that M.I.T. has an educational structure geared towards graduating its students while We have an educational system geared towards "parking" Our students until they either get pushed out the door (with or without a degree) or their Pell Grants run out...with or without a degree. I'm just tired of seeing the UPR treated as an "intellectual center/engine of change" and thus worthy of being respected as such when in fact it is not much more than a kindergarten with a cash bar.

Thanks for commenting. The next round of drinks is on Me.

Ed said...

Loved this post. I think many students are at fault here but the system lets them get away with it. One of my roommates graduated in 6 years from a 4 year Biology degree. I think he took Organic Chemistry 3 or 4 times. He is a Veterinarian now after spending at least twelve years studying.

I wonder how the failure to have enough courses that are requisites for graduation affect the graduation rates.