College Graduation Rates

As a father of two college students enrolled in a private, liberal arts college, I fully expect both of our children to graduate from college in four years or less. They know that any years beyond that must be self-funded. Thus, a recent Marietta Daily Journal guest editorial caught my attention.  The article highlighted a new funding philosophy for higher education in Georgia.  The policy, approved by a commission appointed by Governor Nathan Deal, will tie state money not only to the number of students enrolled, but to how many students actually graduate from each University System of Georgia school.  Currently, only 24% of entering freshman at Georgia’s public colleges and universities graduate in four years, and just 52% graduate in six years.

Most readers are, like my wife and I, investing significantly in our children’s future with tuition dollars.  These graduation statistics highlight a secondary system that, all too often, sends high school graduates to college who must first take remedial courses before enrolling in college-level classes.   While the colleges benefit financially from students remaining on campus five, six, or seven years, either parents must foot the bill or students must take on loans.  This dynamic impacts secondary school decisions as well.  Parents considering independent school options like Walker often ask themselves if they can afford private, secondary school tuition in the face of rising college costs and extremely low college graduation rates.

The answer to the tuition question is counter-intuitive.  It turns out that an investment in a Walker education will most likely reduce the costs of an undergraduate education.  Having surveyed Walker alumni in the classes of 2004, 2005, 2006, & 2007, it is clear that Walker graduates represent the top decile of college graduates.  Consider that Walker graduates from the classes of 2004 through 2007:

  • have a cumulative 3.5 GPA in college (our graduates retain the Hope Scholarship)
  • graduate with Honors at a rate of 47%
  • graduate in four years or less 81% of the time (more than three times the state average)
  • rate the degree to which Walker prepared them well for college at 3.6 on a scale of 4.0

The investment is more than worth it because Walker graduates head to college with self-confidence knowing they are well-prepared to handle the challenges of college and beyond.

One Walker alumnus responding to the survey put it this way, “Walker’s strength is that it challenges you extensively, so that college courses are not a giant leap in difficulty from the Walker experience. Walker does an exceptional job of fostering classroom discussion, debate, and presentations, which are a huge component of high-level college courses. These experiences teach verbal and written communication skills, and they prepare students well to meet the demands of college and the workplace. The relationships and interaction with teachers prepare students for working collaboratively with adults in their careers. I have spoken to multiple Walker alumni who had similar experiences.”

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The Spirit of ‘Wanting to Know’

I ate lunch with a group of first graders last week. As I sat down with my tray of food, a small group was deeply engaged in conversation about a recent experiment in science class. These children were talking excitedly about volcanoes. When I started asking simple questions, I soon learned that I needed to increase the sophistication of my questioning technique.

First graders at Walker spent the month of September learning about volcanoes — the prompt for this unit of study was the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (August 24th in 79A.D.) Children’s innate interest in physical science (and things that explode!) is fascinating and an incredible example of how students experience lessons and units that connect to their passions and keep them engaged and learning for days and weeks to come. In this case, it was mid-October and these students were still talking about a science lab that was completed in September!

As I ate my lunch and listened to these students, I was reminded that there is so much we adults can learn from children. At the lunch table, I became the student and the first graders were my teachers. They told stories, shared statistics, and explained everything I needed to know about their science experiment and their new learning related to this scientific phenomenon.

A recent New York Times article, Scientific Inquiry Among the Preschool Set, offers a glimpse into the power of free exploration and guided inquiry in the classroom:

When engaged in what looks like child’s play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists, according to a new report in the journal Science: forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world.

In the Lower School, science teachers Suzanne Waddington and Denise Mullins capitalize on children’s passions and willingness to take risks with an array of learning activities. These activities often look like child’s play — like the creation and eruption Mt. Vesuvius depicted in the video below — but such play allows children to explore and test multiple hypotheses and travel down varying roads of investigation.

This short video offers a brief glimpse into the first grade unit of study on volcanoes. It also demonstrates the many ways in which our Walker School teachers cultivate students’ spirit of wanting to know in every setting…which is our promise to the families we serve.

I am always learning.

In my office is displayed this plaque.  The words, “Ancora Imparo,” mean “I am always learning.”  The quote is attributed to one of the world’s greatest minds, Michelangelo, who is claimed to have lived these words until the end of his life.  I keep this plaque in my office because it captures the essence of education and life.  Students, teachers, parents, all of us should continually remain in “learning mode.”

At The Walker School, we believe that meaningful relationships between teachers and students will result in transformative learning.  What is transformative learning?  While it may be difficult to define, if you consider your own learning experience, it is likely that you can pinpoint moments where you were engaged in transformative learning.

In 1998, I participated in a teaching seminar at The Westtown School.  Dr. Roland Barth, Professor of Education at Harvard University, led us through an exercise that enabled me to identify the periods in my life where my learning was most transformational.  Dr. Barth gave each of us a piece of graph paper and directed us to “graph your life, from birth to present, from worst times to best times.”  It was interesting to think back over one’s childhood, high school, college days, courtship and marriage, early professional career.  Barth gave us ten minutes to complete the exercise, and when we were done, he asked the most penetrating question: “Now circle the three places where you learned the most.”  I looked at my graph and immediately knew the answer; I learned the most during those moments when I had failed, where the graph point was at the lowest.  It was a profound recognition.

Once I became acutely aware of the correlation between adversity and learning in my own life, I began to notice example of such learning in many areas.  One of the world’s greatest athletes, Michael Jordan, said “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Transformative learning happens in an environment which promotes a growth mindset, a topic that I will share more about in my next post based on outstanding research done by Dr. Carol Dweck.  Transformative learning happens in an environment which is intimately scaled, where parents and teachers collaborate to cultivate each student’s spirit of wanting to know, and where mutual trust and encouragement enable students to try, fail, try again, find success, and experience transformational learning.  It happens here at The Walker School.