It’s not college grads who need help; It’s the dropouts

By William MacKenzie,

Most of the discussion about the wisdom and impacts of President Biden’s college loan cancellation announcement is focusing on college graduates.

I maintain that college graduates, certainly including couples with annual income of $250,000, are in the strongest position to pay back their student loans. The students who got screwed the most are those who took out loans and failed to graduate. They got stuck with the costs of college, but none of benefits of a college degree.

Accordion got the Social Security Administration, men with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more. Men with graduate degrees earn $1.5 million more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more.

An estimated 38.6% of the 43 million student debtors in the United States — roughly 16.6 million people — have debt but no degree six years after first entering college, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data.

At the University of Oregon, 27.4% of the students seeking bachelors degrees in the class of 2015 had still not graduated 8 years later. Of these 1,730 students, 25 were still working towards their degree, 1,148 had transferred to a different institution, and the remaining 556 are assumed to have dropped out.

At Oregon State University, there were 6,316 bachelors degree candidates in the class of 2015 . After 8 years, just 63.8% of this class had eventually their degree. Of the remaining 2,288 students, 79 were still working towards their degree, 1,406 had transferred to a different institution, and the remaining 802 are assumed to have dropped out.

The institutions with the highest dropout rates are historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). HBCUs have an average graduation rate of just 35%, according to Best Colleges.

When The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education surveyed 64 of 100 historically black colleges and universities, only 5 of those schools surveyed graduated more than 50 percent of their students:

Spelman College, 69 percent graduation rate;
Howard, 65 percent;
Hampton, 59 percent;
Morehouse, 55 percent;
Fisk University, 52 percent.

At half of the HBCUs surveyed, the black student graduation rate was 34 percent or lower. And there were seven HBCUs in which fewer than one in five black students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a Washington D.C.-based, nonprofit organization that represents 47 public HBCUs, attributes much of the high non-completion rate to the HBCUs accepting a lot of students with low standardized test scores and GPAs, students encountering time-management and behavioral issues, and a lack of financial literacy.

Some black students failing at HBCUs, just like some other college dropouts, would also be better off if they had chosen, instead, two-year schools, one-year associate’s degree programs, community colleges, trade schools and the like.

“It seems we’re telling our kids that if you don’t go to a four-year school,” Taylor said, “then you are wasting your mind.”

In a recent interview with Newsweek, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R – North Dakota) took a dim view of college dropouts and was disinclined to give them any help with college debt. “If you look at the statistics of freshmen who don’t finish college, but they take out student debt in order to experiment with college—if you start forgiving that first $10,000 for people, that just enhances these reckless decisions,” he said.

I disagree. With no degree, they’re the ones least able to benefit from their college experience and the most likely to need a leg up now.