College drop-outs are “one of the largest and fastest-growing groups of young adults in America,” says the New York Times’ series on social class. Once they’ve left college, most never go back to complete a degree.
Almost one in three Americans in their mid-20’s now fall into this group, up from one in five in the late 1960’s, when the Census Bureau began keeping such data. Most come from poor and working-class families.
Students from low-income and blue-collar families tend to go to colleges where graduation rates are low. Elite colleges with high graduation rates are more tilted toward affluent students. The five-year graduation rate is 41 percent for low-income students, 66 percent for high-income students, concludes a Department of Education study.
“You get there and you start to struggle,” said Leanna Blevins . . . who did get a bachelor’s degree and then went on to earn a Ph.D at Virginia studying the college experiences of poor students. “And at home your parents are trying to be supportive and say, ‘Well, if you’re not happy, if it’s not right for you, come back home. It’s O.K.’ And they think they’re doing the right thing. But they don’t know that maybe what the student needs is to hear them say, ‘Stick it out just one semester. You can do it. Just stay there. Come home on the weekend, but stick it out.’ “
Without a college degree, workers can achieve a middle-class lifestyle but fear they’re vulnerable to changes in the economy.