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Cut the College Dropout Rate

Going to college seems de rigueur for many more high school students in the US - a social norm. And college admissions standards (not to mention costs) trend ever upward as a result.

But that hasn't changed a longstanding problem: Too many students entering college fail to finish in four years for one reason or another.

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The latest study, "A Matter of Degrees," uses data available for the first time from the US Department of Education to reveal 6 out of 10 first-time, full-time college freshmen don't graduate even within six years. The study, by the nonprofit Education Trust, also notes the graduation rate is worse for low-income and minority students - about 50 percent.

No doubt, the costs of college force some students, even with financial aid, to drop out.

But the Trust study also finds big graduation-rate differences among colleges - between 10 to almost 100 percent, even among institutions with similar student populations.

Beyond current federal, state, and local efforts to strengthen K-12 curriculum and testing, colleges can do more to improve graduation rates. The University of Florida, for instance, flags students who are making good grades, but not progress toward a major. Another college makes class attendance mandatory, and encourages a bearable course load in the freshman year. Of course, notes Trust senior analyst Kevin Carey, "Students who feel part of their institutions, who are engaged" are more likely to finish in four years. States also can tie funding to colleges as an incentive to help improve graduation rates.

And colleges can do a better job of screening applicants. Colleges with mandates to grow and take in more students must be more discerning (not everyone's cut out for college) even as the financial pressure to perform bears down.