Public-college dropouts cost taxpayers a pretty penny

State and federal governments, and their taxpayers, spent more than $9 billion on college students who dropped out before their second year and may never return, a nationwide report says.

A report by the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C, says $9 billion was spent on those students over a five-year period, with California, Texas and New York in the lead.

Mark Schneider, a vice president at the institute and former commissioner of the federal National Center for Education Statistics, said attrition, especially at public institutions, has far-reaching effects on the American economy.

"The bottom line of the report is that the country cares a lot about completion. But there's a very high number of students who drop out in the first year," Schneider told The News-Gazette. "You can't cross the finish line if you don't finish the first lap. That's a problem for everyone, not only for parents and for kids, but also for taxpayers."

In the report, "Finishing the First Lap: The Cost of First Year Student Attrition in America's Four Year Colleges and Universities," researchers looked at 2003 to 2008 data from the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

They discovered that the 30 percent of first-year college students who failed to return to campus for a second year accounted for $6.2 billion in state appropriations for colleges and universities, more than $1.4 billion in student grants from states and $1.5 billion in federal government grants.

Schneider said the team did not study community colleges, where dropout rates can be even higher.

The report noted President Barack Obama's goal for the U.S. to have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020.

The report noted that students who attend public colleges or universities are subsidized by taxpayers through state appropriations and grants; nationwide, these subsidies average nearly $10,000 per student per year.

According to the report, 13 states posted more than $200 million of state funds lost to students dropping out before their second year of college.

The states include California, at $467 million; Texas, $441 million; New York, $403 million; and Illinois, $290 million.

The average state spent $120.5 million in state subsidies to first-year dropouts between 2003 and 2008, the report said.

The study did not look at the costs to taxpayers of students who drop out sometime after their sophomore year. Nationally, only about 60 percent of students graduate from four-year colleges and universities within six years.

Schneider said the problem begins before the college level.

"We need to get states on the case. States have legislative and budgetary authority, particularly in public institutions, where most students go," he said. "They need to start to factor in performance."

The report serves as the foundation for the group's new website, CollegeMeasures.org. Graduation rates and expenditures for all 50 states, six metropolitan areas and more than 1,500 institutions are at the site.

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EdRyan wrote on October 11, 2010 at 7:10 am

Who is this foundation and who is paying their bills? I don't trust any of these so called institutes and foundations unless I know who is behind them. What is their political agenda? This is an issue that has been well known for years.

Why do we assume that simply because the student did not complete a degree within 6 years that this was a wasted effort? Did the student attend classes and complete a semester or a year? Then we've benefited because that student developed skills and gained knowledge even though we want that student to finish a degree. Did that student find it too expensive to continue? Does the data show that students from lower socioeconomic status families are most likely to try higher education and then stop?

Some states, like Arizona, have very open admission policies with the result that many students start a higher degree but then stop. The University of Arizona has a very high rate of freshmen who do not continue even with heroic efforts to support their academic efforts by the U.

There are a myriad of socioeconomic, political, and education policy issues that are a part of this matter to which this report adds nothing of substance. Given that it is October of an election year is is just more political posturing by someone.

Joe American wrote on October 11, 2010 at 8:10 am

And do you want to know a dirty little secret that is going on in our very own community, particularly at Parkland College? There are a number of students - exactly how many only the administration may know - who semester after semester obtain financial aid, register for classes, and then drop the class. This goes on over and over.....and they never have to return the monies that were given to them for financial aid. Unless you want to be continued to be milked by these parasites, someone needs to fix this!

EdRyan wrote on October 11, 2010 at 9:10 am

As a matter of fact I do. Intentionally doing so is fraud and should not be tolerated.

5uperman wrote on October 11, 2010 at 11:10 am

The sad reality of this great librul democracy is that it is impossible to live a comfortable life without a college degree. No matter how many hours you put in at Walmart or working the drive thru, you will not be able to pay the bills. Thanks Obama! Hope indeed!

Unfortunately, the only solution seems to be some sort of caste system like in India. People of the lower castes would be born into certain jobs, saving billions that would otherwise be wasted on college. The upper castes would then be assigned certain lower castes to help pay for food and toilet paper and maybe gasoline or whatever.

Doctors could adopt nurses. Lawyers could feed cab drivers, etc. It is shameful that our leaders have let it come to this!

Vote the bums out.

SandyC wrote on October 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Where to start? While "Superman" is right that there has been considerable credential inflation in this country (why does one need a college degree to be a receptionist or a clerk?), blaming this phenomenon on "libruls" in general or Obama in particular makes it sound like this situation has only existed since January 2009.

What's needed, so that people who work at lower-paying jobs can exist with dignity, is for the top 1% of Americans to suck it up and pay their fair share of running this country and for the government to get out of the war business and into the business of caring for its citizens.

I don't expect "Superman" to approve of any of this, but I do suspect that, if he were to live under such a system for a year, he would never go back to the way things are now.

5uperman wrote on October 11, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Right. Typical.
The Government needs to "care" more. The Government is in the "war" business--not the protecting us from the terrists business, right?

It's ungratful people like Sandy who ask the government for handouts--but in reality it means successful people have to work it two jobs--for there family and for all the losers' families. That's NOT my America! It's not the America of our four fathers either, thank the Lord.

I'm tired of these codewords: "top 1%" is liberal smear for "successful at life" or "raised right by our parents." Jealously fuels these clowns and they want to bring all of us down with them!

bluegrass wrote on October 13, 2010 at 9:10 am

The numbers can vary depending upon who is putting them out, but the top 1% pay about 35% of all income taxes in the U.S. The top 25% pay about 80% of the total, while the bottom 50% pay about 4%.

"Fair Share" is sort of a difficult number to define.

SandyC wrote on October 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm

While I didn't realize how much money is involved, the situation the article describes is hardly new. I went to a selective public college in the late 1960s and at freshman orientation we were told to look to the left and to the right and that one of the three of us would not be there at the end of the year. So, the 30% dropout rate after freshman year is not a new phenomenon at all.

What the statistics mean, to me, is that it is normal for 30% of new admits to flunk out or to decide that college isn't for them at that point in their lives. It is too bad that there is so much pressure on the families of students who aren't able to prosper in college to send them anyway, but the bottom line is that funding agencies and university admissions people will probably have to accept that one in three students won't be there at the end of that first year and that no amount of college-prep courses is going to change that.

Angel200161832 wrote on October 11, 2010 at 3:10 pm

I was an Parkland College student that had to drop out after one year. I got financial aid my first year and I did great. I got on the Dean's List in the Spring Semester but when it came to getting financial aid for the next year Parkland College said I didn't qualify for financial aid even though my financial situation did not change. One has to think, How many others (in their stats) had this happen too? I think it is unfair to blame all the students for this and it is time to add Colleges in on the blame.

EdRyan wrote on October 12, 2010 at 8:10 am

Probably quite a lot of them. Unless you're lucky enough to come from a family with the money to help support you, a higher education is a tough row to hoe financially.