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A great deal of debt, and no degree to show

STUDENT loan debt now exceeds credit card debt in the United States. But simply advancing money for a college education does not necessarily mean results for students coming out.

According to a couple of stories that surfaced this week, that isn't the case at all.

James Skidmore, who heads West Virginia's Council for Community and Technical College Education, spoke to lawmakers Monday, as did Chancellor Paul Hill of the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

Their message:  Cutting funding for higher education would hurt colleges' ability to help students, and 2) the state's two-year and four-year colleges must do a better job of ensuring that students actually earn degrees.

* Only 75 percent of first-time freshmen returned to West Virginia's four-year colleges in 2011.

* Less than half of students at four-year schools earned a degree within six years.

* Less than 28 percent of students who enter the state's 10 community and technical colleges to earn a two-year associate degree or certificate actually earn one within six years.

* In 2011, more than 65 percent of the students entering the state's two-year colleges needed to take remedial courses - as did more than 20 percent of the students entering four-year colleges.

Dismal - and so was the content of a story, "Push to Gauge Bang for Buck from College Gains Steam," in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.

There's a move on in Congress 1) to hold colleges more accountable for whether students can find jobs and repay debt after graduation, and 2) to make it

easier for students to find out which degrees are good investments and which ones aren't.

It matters, as a story in the Nov. 22 Wall Street Journal made tragically clear.

It's tough enough for college graduates to repay

  • tudent loans. It's tougher still for dropouts..
  • "According to a 2011 study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based research firm, 58 percent of the 1.8 million borrowers whose student loans began to be due in 2005 hadn't received a degree," the Journal said.

    "I think we had this mistaken belief that if we'd send students off to college then they'd graduate," said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

    Colleges are scrambling to figure out how to help students finish, but the fact is that too many people are taking on crippling debt in exchange for low returns.

    That a situation that bodes ill not just for higher education, but for the nation.


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