Survey: Work, Family to Blame
For Low College Completion
lack of financial support and a need to work simply to
make ends meet are keeping college students from earning
degrees or certificates, says a recent Public Agenda survey.
Underwritten with funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Founda-
tion, the nationwide survey, “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of
Fifty-six percent of respondents listed the need to work full time as a major im-
pediment preventing them from returning to school. More than half of respondents
also cited family commitments as a major factor. Even more troubling, perhaps,
more than one-third of students indicated that they wouldn’t be able to return to
college even if their tuition and books were fully paid for.
“The conventional wisdom is that
students leave school because they aren’t
willing to work hard and aren’t really
interested in more education, said Jean
Johnson, director of Education Insights
for Public Agenda. “What we found was
almost precisely the opposite. Most work
and go to school at the same time, and
most are not getting financial help from
their families or the system itself. It is
the stress of this juggling act that forces
many of them to abandon their pursuit
of a college degree.”
Of those who failed to graduate, the
survey found, 58 percent did not receive
support from parents or relatives, and
69 percent did not receive support from
scholarships or other financial aid.
President Obama already has pledged
to make U.S. postsecondary graduation
rates the highest in the world by the
year 2020. And he has asked Congress for
more than $12 billion through his landmark American Graduation Initiative to
get the job done. According to the U.S.
Department of Education, a paltry 20
percent of community college students
currently graduate within three years.
But there is hope. Eighty-nine percent
of respondents who failed to complete a
degree said they thought about returning to college, and nearly all (97 percent)
said it was important to them that their
children attend college.
Students said better financial aid for
part-time enrollees, more flexible class
times, tuition reductions, and more
childcare options and assistance were
among the incentives that would encourage them to re-enroll and see their educations through to completion.
“Getting more and more students into
college means nothing if we don’t also
provide them with the support they need
to graduate,” said Hilary Pennington,
director of Education, Post-Secondary
Success, and Special Initiatives at the Bill
& Melinda Gates Foundation.