Financial strain contributes to college drop-out rates

Sunday, July 1, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — With student loan debt in the United States exceeding consumer credit card debt for the first time in history, the decision of whether to go to — or stay in — college becomes a cost-benefit analysis, according to a recent article from Reuters.

"Financial barriers play a key role in students' decisions to drop out of college, (a 2011 Pew Research Center) study finds. Among adults age 18-34 who lack a bachelor's degree, two-thirds halted their education to support a family, 57 percent preferred to work and make money and 48 percent simply couldn't afford college.

Yet for some students, dropping out with loans can be worse than plowing through with debt. Student loans can't be discharged via bankruptcy, for example, and many college dropouts will face career barriers due to the lack of a degree, experts say. Current unemployment statistics show that those without a college degree are twice as likely to be unemployed as those with a bachelor's degree," the article said.

The article also reports that a 2011 study by Harvard Graduate School of Education found that only 56 percent of U.S. students complete four-year degrees within six years, which is almost double the 29 percent of those who finish a two-year degree within three years. And that's not stacking up well against the international competition. Among 18 countries whose college graduation rates were tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. finished last, with just 46 percent of students completing college once they'd started.

 This post is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

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