Arizona’s colleges and universities would fare better with serious admission standards

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute
Governor Jan Brewer has been encouraging the universities to develop lower cost alternatives to getting a four-year degree. But, the state is bankrupt and will not be able to find additional money to help create such options.

I have an idea that would help, and it will not cost a dime.

A consulting firm recently presented a report to the Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board with disturbing information about completion rates. The report found that 82 percent of community college students aim to get a degree, but only 11 percent of them have done so after three years. This completion rate puts MCCCD in the bottom 12 percent of all community college systems nationwide, the report says.

When we go to the university level, the results are little better. The Education Trust’s database of university statistics reveals the four-year graduation rates of Northern Arizona University, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University to be 28.4 percent, 32.7 percent and 27.7 percent, respectively. Give students two more years and only UA cracks a 50 percent graduation rate.

Arizona’s system of higher education is doing an extremely poor job in matching students with colleges. There is a fine line between giving students an opportunity to seek an education despite previous academic failure, and simply using students as financial cannon fodder. Arizona obviously went screaming past that fine line many years ago.

We are not doing students any favors by encouraging them to run up thousands of dollars in debt to pay for school, only to flunk out. In addition, taxpayers should not subsidize six-year odysseys of self-discovery that half of the time fail to result in a university diploma

Arizona’s community colleges and universities should raise their admission standards for new students. Some, perhaps most, of the students flunking out of ASU, UA and NAU ought to be attending community colleges. Community colleges traditionally focus on remediation and are less costly to students and taxpayers.

If we would properly match students to institutions, our higher education system would both save taxpayers money and serve students better.

Those in higher education often are quick to point an accusing finger at the K-12 system for not preparing enough teenagers for college, and rightly so, but no one is forcing them to admit utterly unprepared students.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.


  1. Excellent.

    New Mexico is experiencing the same, so this isn’t unique, as a recent article there about the univeristy dropout rate: “Disappearing students” indicates. Graduating High Schools seniors are racked up with awards, high scores and then can’t make it in college. That goes against common sense. The drop out rate in universities is a huge indicator and warning that the K-12 education system isn’t preparing students with the background and study skills they need to succeed in university. If they aren’t prepared to succeed in university, how badly are they prepared for vocational skills, which also require solid competencies in math and reading? This failure is having ramifications through all levels of American society.

    Who needs a contractor who can’t get his load calculations right? A little late to find that out when the roof collapses.

    The military is getting more and more high school applicants who cannot pass the general aptitude test. They’re tatooed to the hilt, but can’t perform enough on a test designed to identify what they have an aptitude for.

    Students don’t know their math, their science, their history, their geography, no classic literature, they don’t know how to take notes, how to study, how to take a test.

    SChools have been complicit in handing out As so parents won’t think to question what their children are learning, regrouping classes into advanced, average and slow instead of teaching all to a same standard – which deceives parents that their kid’s A in math is the same as his classmate’s A in math, when they are not; offering courses like Algebra I in Middle School, leading parents to think their child is advanced, when the course isn’t anywhere as rigorous as a traditional Algebra I class.

    The schools and “independent testing” are co-enabling. The ITBS actually employs a deceptive graphing technique to make low scores look better than they are, enhancing the lower scores while depressing the higher scores.

    The education establishment is hiding the decline.

  2. This editoral misses several points:

    1. Most students attend university on a part-time basis, hence, they don’t graduate in a four year plan.

    2. Many any students are forced to wait until classes needed for their major are offered, hence, they find themselves extended beyond the 4 year plan.

    3. Many state universities are now going the route of private universities and abandoning the tradition 12 week quarter or 16 week semester system and going to a 8 week system. This has the possibility of finishing a 4 year degree in about 2.5 years if you are going full time and your required courses are offered in a manner that meets your goals.

    Raising admission standards will not address the above issues.

  3. It would be interesting to compare the 4 year graduate rate of Arizona’s state universities with the rest of the country.

  4. ALL the colleges and universities are going to have a BAD year this year, and next year, and the year after, and the year after that, and the year after that. They’ve been inflating their overhead costs in flush times, expanding their square footage, hiring, adding on fluffy services like food courts and elaborate student unions that the private sector could handle, and with artificially low rate easy loans, added empty-head majors and just kept jacking up the tuition/room and board.

    They will fight tooth and nail to NOT raise standards because they NEED the money now. In two years time, they’ll be so desperate they’ll be looking to enroll dogs if they think they can get tuitions payment out of them. Watch the standards be revised, either officially or tacitly.

    Graduates are hitting a dead job market with loans they never should have signed on for, just like easy money inflated the housing market then burst, leaving people with high mortgages and low property resale values. Perosnal bankrupties due to college loans will be a huge wave crashing in ahead. The screeches to have the USG guaranteed loans amnesty will be deafening.

    It’s not about what’s good for the students, it’s what’s good for the Education Establishment. Short term as always, of course.

  5. Matthew Ladner says


    The university numbers are for full-time, first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates. You can surf the results for yourself:

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