I recently read a statistic that blew my mind. For most of the 20th century, the United States has led the world in college graduates. Recently, we’ve fallen out of the top ten. In fact, we now lead the world in college dropouts. If you’re curious, I read this in “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough.
Obviously, this is a bad thing…I think. I’m curious why you think this is happening, but for now, I have a few ideas.
The cost of college tuition has gone up 6 fold over the last 30 years. It is true that a college degree is still valuable but tuition costs have spiraled out of control. I personally know of many students who have dropped out of college or decided against college because of the cost. In addition, the epidemic of student loan debt has dissuaded many more prospective students, or at least pushed them toward community colleges, where dropout rates are much higher (roughly 60%).
2. Hyper Focus on College Entrance
Our government and schools are incredibly focused on college acceptance. College is talked about as if it is a magic bullet to end poverty. An incredible array of government programs have been put into effect over the last 50 years to get more students into college, but to my knowledge, very few resources are devoted to getting students through college.
Let’s be real, college is terribly difficult! The academics are demanding, the challenges of transitioning into adulthood are overwhelming, and social temptations are pervasive. If we want to move out of the basement of college completion statistics, we probably need to change our resource allocation and focus.
3. Lack of Direction
Years ago, graduating seniors had far more clarity on their career and life goals than today. Now, for a variety of reasons, college age students often experience an extended adolescence. Most of the college students I know who drop out, do so because they are confused about their life direction and rather than spend thousands of dollars trying to figure themselves out, they drop out, for at least a while. It is clear to me that, whatever the causes, a lack of life direction is a major factor on why many students are dropping out of college.
4. Lack of “Performance Character”
There is tremendous pressure on the typical teenager to achieve–in academics, sports, and extracurriculars. What matters are grades, high ACT scores and awards. While these things have their place, I believe we’ve lost something that matters deeply: character.
I’m talking about character traits like self-control and grit and enable a student to delay gratification and work hard in the face of temptations and difficulty. In short, I believe we are over emphasizing our student’s résumés and under emphasizing the skills and traits that will enable them to succeed in college.
5. College Isn’t for everyone
My last point is an argument that maybe being last in college dropouts isn’t such a bad thing. I know many recent college graduates who have a great degree from a reputable school but can’t land a job in their field of study. It is the dominant story in the 20 somethings I know. In contrast, my dad’s water well drilling business is always in need of skilled laborers who possess strong character and a willingness to work hard. He pays them well too, right out of high school!
While highly educated and qualified college graduates struggle to make minimum payments on their college debt because they can’t find the jobs they were promised, there are more jobs available in the trades than employers can fill. Maybe dropping out of college isn’t such a bad idea.
I’m curious what you think about America’s awesomeness at dropping out of college. Is it good or bad? And, if it’s bad, what can we as student pastors and educators do to help our students?