The Gates Foundation has just released a report “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them” on why students fail to finish college, which might seem a timely topic amidst recent hand-wringing about our persistent failure to actually get students to a diploma. The problem, as with about all studies on this topic, is that it shows little information of any real evaluative use.
We find that “most students leave college because they are working to support themselves and going to school at the same time.” 54% of the students who left school cited “I needed to go to work and make money.” They also reported problems with textbook costs and other fees greater than their peers who graduated as well. Simple enough.
Also unsurprisingly, those who did not have financial support from their parents were far more likely not to graduate, at a rate of 58% dropping out as opposed to 38% graduating. Similarly, those without scholarships or loans were far more likely to drop out.
And yet, when we venture into reasons why students selected their schools, 41% of those who indicated that financial aid or a scholarship was a major reason for choosing their school did not graduate. Perhaps these had additional insurmountable financial difficulties, yet it not, there are clearly larger problems at hand.
What’s left? Well, in keeping with prior indications, students who did not graduate were far more likely to choose colleges based on proximity to where they lived or worked, and to seek a class schedule that worked with my schedule (the students who graduated seemed to have far fewer prior commitments).
What is there to say, based on this sample of 614 students? Well, not much. Clearly, financial problems are at the root of numerous decisions to leave college before completion. Whether graduated or not, most students were supportive of the idea of cutting the cost of college by a quarter (who wouldn’t? and why only a quarter? How about half?). One interesting, and very-much neglected idea was “making part-time attendance more viable by giving those students better access to loans, tuition assistance and health care – benefits and services that are frequently available only to full-time students.” Otherwise, given the data in this report, it seems that there’s very little that can be done. Financial problems are intractable, and in an age where tuition restraint is an absent quantity and increasing federal support never seems to cut the actual price of education, this report is a series of points that fail to add up to anything resembling an answer.. Now if the Gates Foundation pledged to pay for all these shortcomings, that might make a difference. As it is, all we have is just another thick stack of paper.