College Drop Outs: the Latest Victims of the Politics of Compassion

It’s finally dawning upon a broad ideological cross-section of policy wonks that not only does the United States have a problem with high-school drop-outs, it has a problem with college drop-outs.

Conservative pundits have remarked upon the phenomenon for some time. Now they are joined by left-of-center wonks with the American Institutes of Research. In a new paper, “The High Cost of Low Graduation Rates: How Much Does Dropping Out of College Really Cost?,” Mark Schneider and Lu (Michelle) Yin estimate that the cost in lost income for just those students who started college in 2002 and dropped out — just one year — was $3.8 billion nationally (and $128 million in Virginia). Write the authors:

College graduates earn, on average, far more than college dropouts, and these higher earnings translate directly into higher income tax payments that can help solve growing fiscal problems at the federal and state levels. But our colleges and universities are now graduating only slightly more than half the students who walk through their doors. Much of the cost of dropping out is borne by individual students, who may have accumulated large debts in their unsuccessful pursuit of a degree and who forfeit the higher earnings that accrue with a bachelor’s degree.

Calculating the cost of college drop-outs is a worthwhile exercise. Unfortunately, Schneider and Yin exaggerate those costs to society and fail to grasp the implications of a policy that pushes people into squandering a year or more of their lives and racking up big debts chasing what, for many, is an unachievable dream.

While recognizing that federal and state governments spend $1.5 billion annually on students who drop out of their first year of college, Schneider and Yin do not question the goal of sending those students to college in the first place. Recent research has shown that many students are grossly ill-prepared for college-level courses and learn little from the experience. The authors also exaggerate the level of lost income. They assume that (1) college drop-outs are endowed with the same level of college preparatory background,  intelligence, discipline and drive as those who graduate and (2) they would earn as much as their peers if they completed their college degrees. There is no basis for either assumption.

Schneider and Yin acknowledge the devastating cost to students who incur thousands of dollars in loans with no sheepskin to generate the higher income it takes to pay off their debt. However, they fail to draw the obvious conclusion: that the policy of making college education available to an ever-broader swath of the population may be a bad idea. The impact upon the supposed beneficiaries of this social engineering is much the same as the well-intended — and equally devastating — policy of expanding home ownership to segments of the population that could not afford it. Once again, do gooders afflict disaster upon the very objects of their noble intentions.

There are millions of jobs in the trades, manufacturing and services that Americans could fill productively with a year or two of community-college training. Perpetuating the illusion that everyone needs a bachelor’s degree not only impoverishes people who do not prosper in such an environment but it represents a massive misallocation of human and fiscal capital that hurts us all.

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6 responses to “College Drop Outs: the Latest Victims of the Politics of Compassion”

  1. […] Original post: College Drop Outs: the Latest Victims of the Politics of Compassion – Bacon’s Rebellion […]

  2. Darrell Avatar

    Everyone does need a BS degree. It’s the first thing listed on job requirements. Doesn’t matter if you are only going to sell t-shirts, you still need a marketing degree. That’s half the problem, the degree isn’t important for anything other than being a dis qualifier in the selection process. Following that is ten years experience and a hundred meaningless industry certifications. The successful job hunter will have all of that AND be willing to work for peanuts.

    Which is why half the people in college aren’t really looking for a degree to begin with. They are ramping up their resume and getting reimbursed by the present employer who in all probability has no need or position for the increased skills. Just in time education meet just in time job search. Beats the heck out of 30 years and a gold plated watch.

  3. “the degree isn’t important for anything other than being a dis qualifier in the selection process.”

    100% correct.

    “Following that is ten years experience and a hundred meaningless industry certifications.”

    100% correct.

    “The successful job hunter will have all of that AND be willing to work for peanuts.”

    That’s the crux of the problem. People are spending more and more on degrees and salaries have flat lined.

  4. the are GOOD colleges that do not charge near as much as the “name” colleges do.

    In other words, if you REALLY want to, you can get a relatively inexpensive degree AND it can be one in which you have willingly chosen a degree that will actually get you a job in the 21st century.

    remember when people used to go to “night school” to get their “degree”?

    you can still do that.

    you don’t have to take a dumbed-down but horrendously expensive path to a degree.

    the problem is that now days, starting even at the high school level – we are more interested in getting “good” grades (so stay away from the “hard” courses) …so we can get into a “good” (name brand) college (even if it costs $$$) to burnish the resume and not once during that whole period are we focused on what kind of education and qualifications that will be needed for 21st century jobs.

    too many today think that a degree is not really anything other than a certificate of accomplishment and that’s all that is needed to get a “good” job now days.

    in short – the reason K-12 / higher ED … SUCKS now days is ….US.

    We don’t want tough academic standards…because they threaten our “resumes”.

    so basically – we’ve weighed in on the international competition for 21st century technology jobs and our answer is we don’t really want to compete…

    we just want a factory job or a desk-sitting white collar job… that has health care benefits……

    Gawd forbid that reality intrudes….

  5. I attended several colleges before I graduated. I guess that makes me a multiple dropout.

    On the other hand, I was fortunate in having a trade before I left high school, so I was able to work a real job while in school. that plus a six year graduation schedule meant I graduated debt free, with money in the bank and property.

    Darrell is right about the meaningless idustry certifications. Those things are nothing but money mills for the certifiers. Those things are rampant, and often turn into regulatory requirements. But I have never seen a company that appeared to make promotions on the basis of certifications, and certainly not interested in paying employees to get them.

    I imagine that a few of them are well recognized and accepted, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

    The fact remains tha a huge amount o fthe work to be done consists of picking things up and moving them someplace else, and even that work is becoming automated, everywhere from Amazons autmatic stock picking to autonomous ore trucks at strip mines.

    Darrell is also right that getting paid by the present eployer is almost the best scholarship program avaialble, short of a ful ride athletic scholarship or one of the service academies.

    We may reach peak oil and peak work at the same time, and the results of that should be very interesting, not to mention destabilizing.

  6. I did not go to college out of high school… I did not have great grades and I was broke and my parents could not help.

    My employer would pay for courses directly related to the work so for several years I literally went to night school until I amassed 2 years worth of credits at a community college then I took another years worth of credits at a 4-year and the final year, my employer rewarded me by paying for it and giving me the time need to attend the classes.

    I doubt seriously I would have be able to do it any other way but it was debt-free and the core curriculum courses aligned with the work that I did.

    we hear talk of vouchers for health care.

    why not vouchers for govt loans for education?

    you only get reimbursed for the courses that are in areas where there is a need in the workplace… and the ones that are not – you do on your dime?

    and the vouchers themselves don’t pay 100% – they pay 80% (like Medicare) and you have to have 20% skin in the game…?

    0h.. and you don’t get the loan unless your employer or prospective employer certifies that they need that skill….

    so if you want a liberal arts degree – you do it on your own time with your own money….

    if you want a job in the 21st century workforce.. you get some assistance.

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