Every year, nearly half of all college Freshmen drop out. Some, homesick beyond reason, have to move to a college closer to home. Others transfer to smaller institutions hoping to retain their individuality. Some just can’t cope. Unfortunately, however most dropouts never return to higher education.
Some community colleges have been dubbed “revolving door” institutions because of their very high dropout rates. It’s an embarrassment and very frustrating. Now, not everybody need attend college, and far too many who do are illprepared to survive the rigors of higher education.
Many Hispanic students are further burdened knowing that their presence in college denies their families much needed income and assistance, so many work part-time and some full-time to be able to send money home. The added obligation and stress frequently interferes with their studies. Yet, these valiant Hispanic students persevere, women more so than men.
Even with these shortcomings, this country provides more higher education opportunities than the vast majority of other nations. Many of which love to boast they have low tuition, but they fail to mention that only 8 to ten percent of high school graduates attend college. Most of the world has a caste system.
In Great Britain, preteenagers take rigorous examinations, which determine the schools they attend and their future careers. In Japan the parents of elementary school children scrimp and save, so their children can have tutors every day after classes and all day Saturday. They cram, cram and cram to do well on college entrance examinations. One’s score determines which college you attend. No second chance — excel or be relegated to a second or third tier school and subsequent diminished existence. It’s a harsh actuality.
American colleges can be cold, but far more opportunities exist there for a wider variety of students than do in other countries.
State of Education
The National Center for Education Statistics issues a bulky state of education report every year. It’s has more information than anyone needs. It evaluates everything from preschool enrollments to college degrees granted.
1. The United States continues to lead the world in access and attainment
The number of 25- to 29-year-olds with at least a bachelor’s degree rose to 35 percent in 2014, up from 23 percent in 1990. It is above average compared with other developed countries.
In 2014, 34 percent of Americans age 25 to 34 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with an average of 29.5 percent among all countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Disturbingly, the gap between Caucasian and Hispanic bachelor’s-degree holders grew from 18 percentage points to 25.
2. Post college income
Recent graduates continue to suffer the effects of the recession. The median annual earnings of those with bachelor’s or higher degrees between the ages of 25 and 34 were the lowest in 2014 in more than a decade. Median income for the group was $49,900 in 2014, below the pre-recession high of $54,020 (in 2014 dollars) in 2002.
The gender pay gap continues to exists among college graduates. Women ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned $46,800, about 15 percent less than their male counterparts at $54,800.
3. State support for higher education continues to plummet
Funding from state and local governments dropped across all sectors from 2006-07 to 2013-14. Public institutions, the most dependent on those sources, suffered the most. Revenue from state and local grants per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student at four-year public institutions dropped nearly $10,000 in 2013-14 from $12,366 in 2006-07, a 22 percent decline. Nonetheless, public four-year colleges still received approximately 40 percent of their income from government sources in 2013-14.
4. Part-time faculty comprise half of all faculty
Half of all instructional faculty members worked part-time in the fall of 2013, up from 35 percent 20 years ago. Their numbers rose 167 percent from 1991 to 2014, while the number of full-time faculty members rose only 41 percent.
Average salaries for faculty members of all ranks increased from 1992-93 to 2009-10. But since then, average salaries across all ranks decreased from 2009-10 to 2013-14.
Women made up almost half of the faculty in 2014, up from 36 percent in 1991. However, a large percent of full professors are still White men: 60 percent in 2014.
5. Student debt continues to rise as do default rates
Over half of all first-time, full-time undergraduate students who received financial aid in 2013-14 needed student loans, an increase of 12 percent from 2000-01. The total amount of loans to first-time, full-time undergraduates in-creased 53 percent over that period at four-year public colleges (from $4,200 to $6,550 in constant 2013-14 dollars) and 44 percent at four-year private nonprofit colleges (from $5,285 to $7,710).
A new phenomenon has appeared. Of the 4.8 million students who began to repay their loans in the 2013 fiscal year, 11 percent defaulted before the end of that fiscal year. The default rate was higher for that cohort than for the previous two cohorts: 9.1 percent of borrowers who entered repayment in the 2012 fiscal year defaulted, compared with 8.8 percent of those who began payment in the 2011 fiscal year.
6. Over 60 percent of students take 6 years to graduate
Whether or not a student graduates from a four-year institution correlates highly with the type of institution that student attends. At the most selective four-year colleges (those where fewer than 25 percent of applications are accepted), 86 percent of students graduate within six years.
At open-enrollment institutions, only 33 percent of students graduate in that time frame. The overall six-year graduation rate is over 60 percent. It’s 67 percent at private nonprofit institutions, 58 percent at public institutions and 32 percent at private for-profit institutions.
With high costs, prolonged graduation realities, increasing student debt and decreasing support from state governments, the world of higher education has changed and leaves a lot to be desired.
But opportunities continue to flourish, and the ultimate rewards are worth-while.
Dr. Mellander was a university dean for 15 years and a college president for 20.