mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Good News for College Dropouts?


A new study by The Hamilton Project says that dropping out of college isn’t a total waste: you still get some benefit. The New York Times reports:

The investment in even a partial college education is still worth it, amounting to average earnings of $100,000 more over a lifetime than for those who merely finish high school. That’s a better investment return on average than stocks and bonds — though of course much lower than the return on college for those who finish. […]

But the new report notes those with some college still earn $8,000 more per year than those with only a high school diploma. The report also notes that the national unemployment rate reported last week in the combined category that includes those with some college or an associate’s degree was 6.5 percent—below the national average of 7.6 percent for people 25 and over..

One of the arguments against mass college enrollment is that marginal students are more likely to flunk out, leaving them worse off than they were before: with a huge debt burden and no degree to show for it. This report suggests that even those who drop out receive some benefits in the form of higher earning power than those who never enroll in college.

Perhaps, but the real question is whether these marginal benefits are worth the massive price tag. Times are tough even for those who graduate on schedule; they’re even worse for the nearly 50 percent of students who don’t earn a degree in six years. There are 34 million Americans over 25 who have some college credits but no diploma, and they are four times as likely to default on their loans as their degreed peers.

Rather than funneling marginal students into conventional degree programs, why not encourage cheaper alternatives like vocational schools, online coursework, or certificate programs? If the goal is to give people a credential that signals certain competencies to employers, then for many students there are plenty of cheaper and better options than a four-year degree.

[Ball and chain image courtesy of Shutterstock]

Features Icon
show comments
  • Corlyss

    Reporting on Snowden has certainly cast a pall over the notion that high-school drop-outs today are capable of capitalizing on their marketable skills. Reporters keep talking about him in the vein of “how did such an uneducated man get a security clearance in the first place, and how could a contractor have hired such a no-account for such an important job.
    We habitués of ViaMedia know the answer to those questions. I understand that Diane Feinstein, in a characteristically misguided move, is introducing a bill to curtail the use of outsourcing in intel work. Stupidity on the hoof. The government’s constipated grade structure will not permit the paying of tech savvy recruits at a scale commensurate with their abilities or the demands of the jobs they are hired to do. The only reason the government has ANY scientists working for it at all is that Congress had to sever them from the grade structure and pay them what they could get on the open market. A school drop out would not likely ever be hired for a technical job; it’s just not in the civil service rule book. KSAs are geared around experience and education, and if an applicant is too young to have the experience, education requirements winnow them out. Contracting is the only way the government will get its needs satisfied. Feinstein reflexive reaction seems to blame the outsourcing process itself for this mess. If she’s not careful, this rush to misjudgment will shoot the government in the foot.

  • Pait

    The NYTimes says, “Data reveals a rise in college degrees among Americans.”

    I guess that means that Americans have decided that college degrees are worthwhile after all. I suppose that everyone who believes in freedom and markets will trust their judgement and stop ranting and raving about the “cost” of education, or its relevance. Or perhaps not.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service