New report out from Public Agenda, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, titled "With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them: Myths and Realities About Why So Many Students Fail To Finish College." The report is based on interviews with 600 students between the ages of 22 and 30.
It starts with a statistic to startle:
Then, it blasts through the stereotype that many of us might have about college students being 18 to 22 year olds and attending a 4-year residential institution (they represent only about 25% of the college population). Here are some other demographic information about college students:
- Among students in four-year schools, 45 percent work more than 20 hours a week.
- Among those attending community colleges, 6 in 10 work more than 20 hours a week, and
more than a quarter work more than 35 hours a week.
- Twenty-three percent of college students have dependent children.
The report then proceeds to highlight five myths and realities of why students don't complete:
MYTH NO. 1: Most students go to college full-time. If they leave without a degree, it’s because
they’re bored with their classes and don’t want to work hard.
REALITY NO. 1: Most students leave college because they are working to support themselves and going to school at the same time. At some point, the stress of work and study just becomes too difficult.
- Key statistic: 2/3 of those who dropped out have thought a lot about going back to school but been constrained by concerns about working and going to school at same time.
MYTH NO. 2: Most college students are supported by their parents and take advantage of a multitude of available loans, scholarships, and savings plans.
REALITY NO. 2: Young people who fail to finish college are often going it alone financially. They’re essentially putting themselves through school.
- Key statistic: Higher percentage of students who didn't complete took out loans (69%) compared to those who did graduate (51%), which is the bad-bad quadrant of "have loans but have not improved earning power."
MYTH NO. 3: Most students go through a meticulous process of choosing their college from an array of alternatives.
REALITY NO. 3: Among students who don’t graduate, the college selection process is far more limited and often seems happenstance and uninformed.
- Key statistic: Among those who did not graduate, 2/3 chose their school because it was close to where they lived or worked.
MYTH NO. 4: Students who don’t graduate understand fully the value of a college degree and
the consequences and trade-offs of leaving school without one.
REALITY NO. 4: Students who leave college realize that a diploma is an asset, but they may
not fully recognize the impact dropping out of school will have on their future.
So, what policies would help those who left return to school?
- The next three most cited policies by non-completers were:
- Cut college costs by 25% (78% of non-completers)
- Have the government offer more college loans (76%)
- Provide day care for students who need it (76%)
The report closes with a quintessential American yearning for a better life for its children:
- Chronicle of Higher Education: Why Do Students Drop Out? Because They Must Work at Jobs Too
- New York Times: Study Sheds Light on Students Leaving College Early
- Atlanta Journal Constitution: Why kids don't finish college: Work and family challenges
- Washington Post: Majority of college dropouts cite financial struggles as main cause
- Christian Science Monitor: Why many college dropouts say they left: the need to work