The College Dropout Scandal

Thursday, March 23, 2017
12:00PM- 1:00PM with catered lunch to follow
Academic Innovation Studio, Dwinelle 117 
James D. Marver Professor of Public Policy, Goldman School of Public Policy


 Only 60% of undergraduates enrolled in bachelor's programs graduate in six years; fewer that 40% of students in community colleges graduate or transfer in three years. The scandal — and it really is a scandal — is that most institutions of higher education aren’t using the tools that have been proven to change the equation. It’s not rocket science—schools you may never have heard of, like Georgia State University and Valencia (Florida) Community College, are leading the way.

The rationales are unpersuasive.

Some administrators point a finger at high schools for turning out under-prepared students. Yet while the public education system could doubtlessly improve, this excuse won’t wash, since among otherwise similar institutions, graduation rates can vary by as many as 20 percentage points. The dropout problem is especially acute for black and Hispanic students, and those from less privileged families. Some officials insist that these students are less well-prepared than their classmates. But that explanation also doesn’t fit the facts. Among equally selective schools, similar institutions have very different graduation rates. What’s more, institutions with a similar graduation rate score very differently when it comes to shrinking the achievement gap. Join the conversation, as David Kirp addresses what the dimensions of the college dropout scandal are and what can be done to boost graduation rates and reduce the achievement gap.


David L. Kirp, James D. Marver Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, is a policy consultant and former newspaper editor as well as an academic. In his seventeen books and scores of articles, in both the popular press and scholarly journals, he has tackled some of America’s biggest social problems, including affordable housing, access to health, gender discrimination and AIDS. Throughout his career, his main focus has been on education and children’s policy, from cradle to college and career.  He was a member of the 2008 Presidential Transition Team, where he drafted a policy framework for early education.

His latest book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools, was named outstanding book of 2013 by the American Education Research Association. The book chronicles how an urban school district has brought poor Latino immigrant children, many of them undocumented, into the education mainstream. His previous book, Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming the Lives of Children, makes a powerful argument for building systems of support that reach from cradle to college and career. It won the National School Board Journal award for the best education book of 2011. The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics analyzes why early education has emerged as a national priority. It received the Association of American Publishers Award for Excellence. His account of the market-oriented drift of higher education, Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education garnered the Council for Advancement and Support of Higher Education’s research award. He is a member of the National Academy of Education.

Much of David Kirp’s writing is aimed at a broad audience. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, American Prospect, Nation, Slate, Daily Beast, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and Huffington Post. In 2015 he was invited to be a contributing writer to the Opinion section of the New York Times. In recent years, he has addressed the American Association of School Administrators, the National Science Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the National Institute for Early Education Research, the American Federation of Teachers, the Cleveland City Club and the Economic Policy Institute. He frequently speaks on college campuses in the United States and abroad, including Harvard, Columbia, UCLA, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Boston College, NYU, Amherst, Glasgow, Ben Gurion, Wellington, Melbourne, Trento and Oslo.

Long committed to developing a new generation of public leaders at the Goldman School of Public Policy at Berkeley, he launched the New Community Fund, to promote greater student diversity, an education and youth policy scholarship and an eponymously-named scholarship. David Kirp is a graduate of Amherst College—a former trustee of his alma mater—and Harvard Law School. He serves as a member of the board of Friends of the Children and on the international advisory committee of Escuela Nueva, a Colombia-based nonprofit that in the past quarter-century has educated millions of children in the developing world. Previously, he served on the boards of Experience Corps and the CORO Institute for Leadership