How to Help More College Students Graduate
Despite the rising cost of education, a college degree is one of the best investments that a young person can make. In 2020, median earnings among workers aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree were 70%, compared with those with just a high school diploma. Over a lifetime, a person with a bachelor’s degree typically earns 45% more than someone who has completed only high school, even after netting out tuition costs.
The financial prospects for college dropouts are poor, for two reasons. First, dropouts earn little more than people with no college education. Second, many dropouts have taken on student loans, and with their low wages, they have difficulty paying off even small balances. Dropouts account for much of the increase in financial distress among student borrowers since the Great Recession.
The dropout problem is particularly acute for students whose parents did not attend college. First-generation students beat enormous odds by even enrolling in a four-year degree program. Yet 30 percent of first-generation freshmen drop out of school within three years. That is three times the dropout rate of students whose parents graduated from college.
Helping students to enter college isn’t enough. For higher education to fulfill its promise as an engine of economic mobility, we need to get students across the finish line to graduation.