More than 70 percent of Americans matriculate at a four-year college — the seventh-highest rate among 23 developed nations for which the O.E.C.D. compiles such statistics. But less than two-thirds end up graduating. Including community colleges, the graduation rate drops to 53 percent. Only Hungary does worse.
It’s still not completely clear why so few college students end up earning a degree after racking up thousands of dollars in debt, but we can hazard a guess. Soaring tuition costs make it hard enough for many students and their families to keep up with payments, and given that half of college grads are underemployed anyway, it’s not unreasonable to think many marginal students opt to cut their losses early.Porter proposes introducing financial aid earlier, in high school, as a form of remedial training. But this misses the bigger problem: College is not for everyone. Rather than trying to funnel more young people into four-year programs, we should be encouraging an array of educational options, with varying price tags, academic requirements, and certifications. Vocational programs, certificate programs, online degrees, and two-year degree programs are all perfectly worthy alternatives to the traditional four-year college degree, yet they receive far less attention. If we want to help marginal students, this would be a good place to start.[Mortar boards image courtesy of Shutterstock]