Real Dropout Prevention

Some 70 percent of young Americans who finish high school now go on to college, but a lot of them drop out. Only 54 percent of students entering four-year colleges earn bachelor’s degrees in six years.

This problem, coupled with President Obama’s pledge to try and get more Americans through college, has resulted in a new focus on college dropouts.

A lot of Americans have seen this as a push to do something to improve college completion; encourage dropouts to come back, create more programs on campus to help students get through their classes.

But what if this approach is all wrong? According to a piece by Emily Hanford at American Radio Works:

There’s more to higher education than bachelor’s degrees and associate’s degrees. A student can choose to get a postsecondary certificate or license, offered through a community college or a trade school. The skills students learn in certificate programs will be increasingly in demand as the economy grows and becomes more complex according to economist Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

For some people, getting a certificate can be more valuable than getting an associate degree. A longitudinal study of workers who are now in their mid 30s found that about 40 percent of those with certificates or licenses were earning more money than their peers with just an associate’s degree; more than a quarter of those with certificates or licenses were making more than those with bachelor’s degrees.

What’s more, they’ve spent less money to obtain that certificate.

As Carnevale emphasized, it’s not like public policy should discourage people from going to college, but given that many students are unlikely to complete college (for academic or, more often, financial reasons) they should have other options. According to Hanford’s piece, “Right now, too many students are going to college and getting no degree out of it. Carnevale says many of those people would probably be much better off with a postsecondary certificate.”

That might be one part of the solution to the college dropout crisis.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer