No Surprise Why College Students Drop Out

In this morning’s Upshot,

The study notes that an average of only 55% of students at private institutions and 46% of students at public institutions graduate within 6 years.

According to the study, students most in need of a degree tend to take more than 6 years to graduate or do not graduate at all.

Colleges that have high graduation rates tend to be more selective and tend to have students who are more affluent and more academically prepared. Colleges with lower graduation rates tend to admit a higher percentage of students with Pell grants, which usually go to lower-income students.

This is why graduation rates are so tricky: The colleges that have the lowest rates are the very same ones that are taking the biggest chances on students. Is it worth it to admit the students on the margins of educational success when you know half of them will drop out? Especially when the costs of dropping out are so high? How low can a graduation rate get before it does more harm than good?

“There is a legitimate policy conversation about where you draw that line,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, an author of the Third Way paper, “but no one is even having that conversation right now.”

So far, there is no clear national policy to facilitate low-income students’ graduation. However, Hatalsky notes that one easily accomplished step in that direction would be to allocate federal funding in such a way that it targets and supports students most in need and without the resources to complete degrees. At present, she notes, the federal government disburses the same amount of aid through Pell grants to all institutions, regardless of the student population the institution serves.

“We hand over the exact same amount of money to Spelman as Harvard,” Ms. Erickson Hatalsky said of the money per student in Pell grants. “We act as if they’re all the same right now. In K-12 we differentiate.”


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