The article by Smith on alienation and failure of minority students in academia, while important, brushes past the alienation and failure of half of all students in colleges. Although UCLA's Alexander Astin says that 56% of Anglo students enrolled in four-year colleges graduate, the figure nationwide of all students is closer to 50%. And when the Ivy League schools are excluded and two-year colleges are included, the figure drops precipitously, closer to 40%. The figures are included in several manuals that evaluate the nation's colleges.
Some light on this may be shed by the results of a mandatory course in coping with the stresses of college that was recently instituted at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. This 1,000-student college on a nine-term schedule accepts about 150 students each term.
It had an attrition rate of about 50%, most in the first half, when about 11 students dropped out of each class each term. Last year a five-week coping course was instituted and required for second-term students. It includes sessions on self-acceptance and self-worth; on socializing skills; and on coping with criticism and internal critics. This past term, only four students dropped out from the third through fifth terms instead of the 33 that were expected.
This has to tell you something. If, in this short time, the attrition rate can be turned around by such simple measures, then we can no longer blame the huge national attrition rate on student "problems." We can't say, any longer, that they just don't have the "right stuff." All students need help in learning to cope with the normal problems of adjusting to life in college. Without that help, perfectly normal and bright students will drop out.