Two Facts About College Dropouts

Two Facts About College Dropouts

Over the last two days, our updates have linked to a pair of pieces -- one by Michael J. Petrilli, the other by Mark Huelsman -- debating whether the staggeringly high college-dropout rate might have something to do with students who are simply not "college material." I just wanted to toss two extra ideas into the discussion.

First, one way to find out what's going on with college dropouts is to ask them. This is what one survey found:

The number one reason students give for leaving school is the fact that they had to work and go to school at the same time and, despite their best efforts, the stress of trying to do both eventually took its toll. More than half of those who left higher ed before completing a degree or a certificate say that the "need to work and make money" while attending classes is the major reason they left. Balancing work and school was an even bigger barrier than finding money for tuition. Those who dropped out are almost twice as likely to cite problems juggling work and school as their main problem as they are to blame tuition bills (54 percent to 31 percent).


Few former students say they left college because they were bored or found that college "just isn't for them." Only about 1 in 10 students who have left college say a major reason they quit was that they didn't like sitting in class or thought the classes were too difficult. 

But here's the second important point: Whether kids admit it or not, it seems undeniable that college readiness is playing a role as well. As Petrilli notes, kids who start out in remedial courses fare especially poorly. And here's a graph I made last year based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth -- it matches students' performance on the ASVAB (a test of cognitive skills) with their odds of attempting college, and of getting a degree if they try:

So: Giving poor kids more money toward college might alleviate some of the problems they identify as impediments to graduation. But college readiness is important, too, and that needs to be addressed -- to the extent it can be -- at lower levels of education.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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