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College Dropouts: Realities, Myths, and Data on Why

Without a college education, it becomes increasingly harder to break out or stay out of poverty. This does not surprise most people I have talked to. What does surprise them is the reality of how few young people (in the US) who start college, actually graduate within 1.5 times the stated length of those programs.

For two year colleges, 80% of young people starting a two year program won’t graduate within three years, if at all. For four year institutions, 60% won’t graduate in six years, if at all. The drop-out rates are pretty dismal and occur at time when such an education has become increasingly important.

Myths around these students abound. Getting grounded in the realities of students today is one of the first actions to take if we are going to significantly reduce the failure rates of young people entering higher education. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation collected data on this subject in May and June of 2009. The foundation has since released a report entitled “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them” to raise awareness in this area. The report lists four significant myths:

MYTH 1: “Most students go to college full-time. If they leave without a degree, it’s because they’re bored with their classes and don’t want to work hard.”
REALITY NO. 1: “Most students leave college because they are working to support themselves and going to school at the same time. At some point, the stress of work and study just becomes too difficult.”

MYTH 2: “Most college students are supported by their parents and take advantage of a multitude of available loans, scholarships, and savings plans.”
REALITY 2: “Young people who fail to finish college are often going it alone financially. They’re essentially putting themselves through school.”

MYTH 3: “Most students go through a meticulous process of choosing their college from an array of alternatives.”
REALITY 3: “Among students who don’t graduate, the college selection process is far more limited and often seems happenstance and uninformed.”

MYTH 4: “Students who don’t graduate understand fully the value of a college degree and the consequences and trade-offs of leaving school without one.”
REALITY 4: “Students who leave college realize that a diploma is an asset, but they may not fully recognize the impact dropping out of school will have on their future.”

You can get a copy of the report: With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them here (including what would help) in a PDF file or by visiting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website at: . The report contains a plethora of information including extended results, what can be done, data, survey questions, methodology, etc.

What do you see being done to address this situation in your organization or elsewhere? What else do you think would help?

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