College drop-outs cost billions

Billions of tax dollars are wasted on college drop-outs who never make it to their second year, concludes an American Institutes for Research study which looked at four-year college students who don’t make it to their second year. The bill for first-year drop-outs came to $9.1 billion in federal, state and local funds from 2003-08.

AIR used Education Department data, which counts only full-time students remaining at the same institution. Transfers count as drop-outs.  However, by excluding part-time students, who are less likely to complete a degree, the report could underestimate the cost of  college drop-outs.

Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economics professor, thinks the cost is higher, including lost income for the drop-outs’ year in college.

Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor who, like Vedder, questions promoting college for all, said the report fleshes out the reality of high dropout rates. But he said it could just as easily be used to argue that less-prepared, less-motivated students are better off not going to college.

“Getting them to go a second year might waste even more money,” Lerman said. “Who knows?”

The study is flawed, but useful, writes Michael Kirst on College Puzzle. He also thinks counting only full-time students underestimates the cost of drop-outs.

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  1. I think that if all taxpayer-funded loans/grants were dropped, or restricted to highly-qualified applicants (who require no remediation, as demonstrated by SAT, ACT, AP scores), there would be far less incentive for schools to admit marginal students. I think it’s fundamentally dishonest to admit unqualified students who are unlikely to complete a marketable degree and saddle them with loans they are unlikely to be able to repay. That’s what happened in the home loan market; mortgages were given to unqualified buyers who then defaulted.

  2. Wow this is dumb. It assumes the only value of going to college is in the degree.

    Couldn’t that there be value in the individual classes taken in that first year? I know it’s shocking and all, but we ought to consider the value of, you know, learning.

    (note: The linked article addresses “dropping out of college after a year.” That is quite different from dropping out mid-semester.)

  3. My reaction was the same as ceolaf’s. The implicit assumption seems to be that the ONLY value of college is the credential received at the end.

  4. It’s one thing for students to engage in higher education, learn, benefit, and then drop out before the credential is received. It’s an entirely different thing when students enroll because no other option than college is presented to them in high school, take out large loans, be placed into remedial classes, dis-engage because they’ve had it with classroom learning, and drop out discouraged and in debt, which they may or may not be able to repay.

  5. The University and the federal government (through student loans and grants) provides the *opportunity* for an education; if the students can’t take advantage of this opportunity, how is it the University’s fault?