Out of the sixty percent of people who go to college in the United States these days, more than a quarter drop out without any credentials. Just half of the college students graduate with a bachelor’s degree and only some people earn a two-year associate’s degree. This is not a new problem for the U.S., who has been facing a significant increase in dropout rates for the past decade. The problem is particularly acute for first-generation students, whose parents did not attend college.
Earning a college degree remains one of the best investments a young person can make. Mary Daly and Leila Bengali, writing for the FRBSF Economic Letter, support this: “Earning a four-year college degree remains a worthwhile investment for the average student. Data from U.S. workers show that the benefits of college in terms of higher earnings far outweigh the costs of a degree, measured as tuition plus wages lost while attending school. The average college graduate paying annual tuition of about $20,000 can recoup the costs of schooling by age 40. After that, the difference between earnings continues such that the average college graduate earns over $800,000 more than the average high school graduate by retirement age”. Therefore, a college degree grants its holder lifetime financial benefits.
So then why is the dropout rate so high, particularly among first-generation students? Money is usually the main culprit, especially among first-generation students, and the rising of the costs of education is not helping the situation at all. For them, there is also the case of lack of counsel and support from their parents, who did not experience college education firsthand.
The City University of New York devised a program that comes to the aid of these students, by offering intensive advising, textbooks and money to cover any deficit between costs and financial aid. This program doubled the three-year graduation rate, according to The New York Times.
Measures are also being taken at a federal level, where the Obama administration introduced as recently as last month two initiatives meant to help students complete their studies: Pell for Accelerated Completion, which would “allow full-time students the opportunity to earn a third semester of Pell Grants in an academic year, enabling them to finish faster by taking additional courses year-round and better meeting the diverse needs of today’s students” and On-Track Pell Bonus, which would “create an incentive for students to stay on track or accelerate their progress towards a degree through an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award of $300 for students who take 15 credits per semester in an academic year”.