This New York Times blog post discusses a report from Public Agenda about a report underwritten by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation titled “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them.” Some 600 young adults, ages 22 to 30, who had left college before getting a degree were surveyed.
I object to the opening comment that Tamar Lewin makes: “only one in five of the students who enroll in two-year institutions graduates within three years. And even at four-year colleges, only two in five complete their degree within six years.” As I have written in the past, the three and six year timeframes are wrong-headed, and I think the findings in this survey highlight that fact. I am certainly interested and hopeful that students will finish their degrees. But to say that the 150% point (3 years for a 2-year degree, 6 years for a 4-year degree) is when they should finish is silly, especially when you consider that 85 percent (per this blog’s name) of college students are either older, studying part-time, and/or working while going to school. We need to consider a longer timeframe that allows for the reality of how these students proceed through to degree completion.
But let’s look at the study—and at the article. What do they tell us?
• 60 percent of those who dropped out were financially independent—got no financial assistance from their parents.
• The story flips when the parents help out—60 percent of the students who got some financial support from their parents finished their degree.
• Of those who dropped out, 70 percent did not have scholarship or loan aid while of those who finished, only 40 percent did not receive such aid.
• The top reason for dropping HGH out is that it was too hard to support themselves and go to school at that same time.
• More than 1 in 3 said that even if they got funds to cover tuition and books, they still could not afford to return to school due to family and work obligations.
• Of those who finished, 72 percent came from households with annual income over $35,000, while of those who dropped out, more than 50% came from households with less than $35,000 per year
There are at least two things going on here. One is the 85 percent issue. We still make public policy assuming that college students go directly from high school to study full-time on a campus, and are supported by their parents. This despite the fact that 85 percent are older, and/or studying part-time, and/or financially independent, and/or working. The second thing is that lower-income students face significant challenges. A good number of lower income students are part of the other 85 percent.
No wonder the survey respondents did not see adding online courses or making the application process easier as solutions. They are dealing with major challenges in finding the time, money, and energy to pursue a college degree. Their ideas for child care, cost reduction, and allowing more financial aid for part-time students make complete sense for what they face.
What results will this study have? Will anyone listen to the facts about the challenges facing the vast majority of contemporary college students? When will we stop being driven only by the assumption that the high school student and his/her parents are the singular audience for higher education public policy decision-making?
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Welcome to The Other 85 Percent. So what does "the other 85 percent" refer to? Research has shown that only about 15 percent of higher education students still fit the traditional definition of young adults age 18 to 22 who live on campus and go to school full time. more