Industry Market Trends

College Dropout Rate High, But Students Who Quit Still Have an Advantage

Jun 12, 2013

While the national college dropout rate remains high, new evidence shows that students who leave school before graduation still have significantly higher lifetime earnings than students who end their education after high school.

With college tuition rates rising and outpacing inflation, and student loan delinquency at an all-time high, some students are forced to end their college careers earlier than expected. While the college dropout rate has been referred to as a national crisis, one new report suggests that students who attended some college but left without credentials still fare better than the less educated - by an average $100,000 in lifetime earnings.

A study by Harvard in 2011 revealed that only 40 percent of 27-year-old Americans have earned associate degrees or higher, and noted that the U.S. has the highest college dropout rate among industrialized nations, finishing last in the percentage (46 percent) of students who completed college.

But even though those who attended college have accumulated loan debt, they still have an advantage in wages. According to The Hamilton Project's June employment analysis, some college is worth more than no college at all.

"Measures by the rate of return, getting some college is an investment with a return that exceeds the historical return on practically any conventional investment, including stocks, bonds, and real estate. (Of course, the return to some college is considerably smaller than the return to finishing either an associate's or bachelor's degree.)," the report notes.

While college graduates fare better overall, earning over $500,000 more than those with high school diplomas over a lifetime, individuals with just some college experience earned nearly $8,000 more in annual wages than high school grads. Over a lifetime, that would equal almost $100,000, which indicates that the rate of return for some college may be worth more than thought.

Yet as the Harvard study points out, success after dropping out may vary depending on family economic status.

"Because of family connections and social networks, a middle-class student dropping out of a selective college is much more likely to find his way into a decent job than a working-class student dropping out of a less selective urban university."

Given rising tuition rates, do you think that higher college dropout rates are inevitable? Make your comments in the section below.