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Choose Your College With Care

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Choose Your College With Care

Giving More Thought to Your School Selection

By Daniel de Vise
The 20 colleges with the largest populations of D.C. Tuition Assistance grant (DCTAG) recipients have a combined graduation rate of 39 percent for those students, according to program data.

Is that a good statistic, or a bad one? On the one hand, it’s low. On the other hand, the data come from a college-preparatory operation that has dramatically increased the share of students from D.C. public schools who enroll in college at all.

DCTAG officials have taken to posting the grad rates in high schools, so students will “give more thought to school selection,” said Gregory J. Meeropol, deputy assistant superintendent in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

“While DC TAG has been a fantastic program at getting kids into college, we can admit we would like to see better numbers of TAG students earning degrees,” he said in an e-mail.

DCTAG provides Washingtonians with grants worth up to $10,000 a year toward the cost of public colleges in other states, to offset the higher out-of-state rates at those schools. The program also provides $2,500 a year to students who choose to enroll in a D.C. school. The federal program is intended to compensate D.C. denizens for the lack of a proper state university system in Washington. Critics note that because the grants are income-blind, DCTAG dollars frequently go into the pockets of the wealthy. The scholarship program comes under occasional threat of congressional budget cuts.

I could not find any demographic breakdowns in the most recent DCTAG data posted to the program’s Web site at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. The numbers do show, however, that a large majority of scholarship recipients come (as one might expect) from the D.C. Public Schools, which means that a great many come from low-income homes.

The college enrollment and attainment rate has risen dramatically in the D.C. schools over the past decade, largely as a result of the D.C. College Access Program, an effort that puts college counselors inside public high schools. That program, combined with the grant initiative, has driven the district’s college attendance rate from 30 percent to 61 percent.

DCTAG numbers include those students, as well as graduates of expensive private prep schools such as Sidwell Friends. But the top 20 institutions serving scholarship recipients is a list that includes a large number of historically black colleges, along with strong DCCAP partners such as Penn State.

DCTAG students fare relatively well at some schools, poorly at others, with no clear pattern that I could discern.

But Meeropol does see a pattern. Some colleges, he said, have proven themselves poor stewards of DCTAG students. Shepherding a needy student through college is an arduous and expensive proposition — more costly, some would say, than the value of the TAG award. Some colleges just aren’t prepared.

“D.C. kids should know that recruiters target groups of DC TAG students because they know they come with TAG money,” he said. “There are a lot of schools that are more interested in getting the TAG money than helping students earn degrees.

“Also, while many high school seniors want to get away from home for college, we are seeing that D.C. kids that stay local tend to do well at local schools and should consider this when making their selection.”

Here are the top 20 DCTAG colleges and their graduation rates for scholarship students and for all students.

1. Montgomery College. 382 TAG students. Graduation rates: 18 percent for TAG students, 14 percent for all students.

2. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. 366 TAG students. Graduation rates: 48 percent for TAG students, 38 percent for all students.

3. Trinity Washington University. 243 TAG students. Grad rates: 32 percent, 38 percent.

4. Prince George’s Community College. 208 students. Grad rates: 6 percent, 6 percent.

5. Virginia State University. 190 students. Grad rates: 35 percent, 44 percent.

6. North Carolina Central University, 190 students, 38 percent, 38 percent.

7. Delaware State University, 158 students, 38 percent, 39 percent.

8. University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, 147 students, 29 percent, 32 percent.

9. Bowie State University, 142 students, 49 percent, 37 percent.

10. Norfolk State University, 134 students, 28 percent, 34 percent.

11. Temple University, 132 students, 64 percent, 66 percent.

12. Pennsylvania State University, 123 students, 64 percent, 85 percent.

13. Morgan State University, 118 students, 18 percent, 32 percent.

14. Virginia Commonwealth University, 116 students, 50 percent, 50 percent.

15. Howard University, 116 students, 83 percent, 69 percent.

16. University of Maryland, 108 students, 88 percent, 82 percent.

17. St Augustine’s College (NC), 79 students, 29 percent, 23 percent.

18. George Mason University, 76 students, 53 percent, 63 percent.

19. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, 62 students, 27 percent, 24 percent.

20. Lincoln University (PA), 58 students, 50 percent, 36 percent.

Let’s also take a look at the TAG honor roll: 10 schools with the highest graduation rates for DCTAG students. Eyeballing this list, I would conclude that George Washington, American, Catholic and Howard universities and the University of Maryland are all overachievers with their DCTAG students.

1. George Washington University, 98 percent

2. American University, 91 percent

3. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 89 percent

4. Georgetown University, 89 percent

5. University of Maryland, 88 percent

6. University of Virginia, 87 percent

7. Catholic University of America, 86 percent

8. University of Michigan, 86 percent

9. Howard University, 83 percent

10. University of Wisconsin, 82 percent