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April 16, 2014

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UC Berkeley grad rate tops national averages

This year’s American Dream 2.0 report, a comprehensive examination of the role financial aid plays in college, painted a dismal picture of American higher education.

UC Berkeley, however, is an exception to the norm.

Produced by an educational powerhouse of college presidents, civil rights leaders, policy makers, student activists, business leaders and more, the American Dream 2.0 found 46 percent of students who enroll in a U.S. college or university fail to graduate within six years.

In other words, students are dropping out of college more and more.

The report attributes this crisis to spiking tuition rates, increasing student debt, and flawed financial aid systems.

But at UC Berkeley, the six-year graduation rate is higher than the national average of 54 percent. According to The Daily Californian, the university’s rate reached 90 percent with the 2005-2006 freshman class, the latest year data was available.

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore told the Daily Cal that Berkeley’s rates have been very high in recent years, exceeded only by the University of Virginia.

This could partially be because most Cal students live on campus and attend full time, versus community college or postsecondary students who might be going to school part time, have children or some “nontraditional” situation that the system doesn’t necessarily account for.

Berkeley’s three-year loan default rate is also incredibly low — 2.6 percent – especially compared to the national average of 13.4 percent. And there’s more: Cal students clock in with the lowest overall debt at graduation of any of the 62 member schools in the Association of American Universities, which includes schools such as Stanford, Yale, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California and most of the University of California campuses.

The report pointed out the obvious: Students who default on loans and can’t pay off their debt are more likely to leave without completing their degree. And as the name of the report indicates, this is a huge impediment to the American Dream.

The report is a call to action of sorts, urging policy and education leaders across the nation to simplify financial aid systems, increase transparency, embrace innovation, and support all students in their pursuit of the American Dream.

Terrell Halaska, a partner at HCM Strategists — the public policy advocacy group that published the report — told the Daily Cal:

“It’s time to start a national conversation about the fact that only about 50 percent of students who start college actually graduate. What are the right policy levers we can use to help students successfully complete a college degree?”

It might do the nation some good to take a closer look at how Berkeley operates in order to answer that question.

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