Don’t Listen To Bureaucrats About The National College Dropout Rate

US News and World Reports recently ran a story on their website: “National College Graduation Rates Slowly Rise.” The idea of the article is that the college dropout rate is a national problem that must be solved. I don’t doubt that there are many students who drop out for bad reason and who hurt themselves by not graduating. If you or your child is tempted to become such a case, please ignore what follows because it doesn’t apply to your situation. But as a “national issue” I am skeptical.

1. A friend of mine who I will leave unnamed—as well as the state in which he works at a community college—tells me that many students in the last few years have dealt with the recession by enrolling to learn new skills. Because they are doing so, they often find employers who are willing to hire them. They no longer have time to attend school. More importantly, they have already reached the goal that they had for entering into college. So they quit. The Federal and State governments hate this. They pressure the college to “improve retention” and “raise the graduation rate.” But that is just bureaucrats trying to ensure that the education bubble keeps inflating. The students leave happy with the college education they received in the classes they took that enable them to get a new job. Why should they care about a diploma?

2. College is amazingly expensive. Students who graduate often have many tens of thousands of dollars in debt weighing them down. The government makes this attractive by subsidizing these loans at a low interest rate and making it easy for students to “qualify.” But debt is still debt. If you graduate owing $60,000 you still feel the load. Many students probably begin to feel this load before they graduate. They begin to realize that their diploma is not going to be valuable enough to compensate for all the money they owe. So they just stop. The best thing to do when you have dug yourself into a hole is to stop digging. If these people drop out of college, they are being smart. The whole phenomenon may represent a national crisis. But, if so, it is a debt crisis, not an education crisis.

3. Worrying about collective student success makes no sense:

“Although the national college graduation rate is slowly improving, more work needs to be done for the Lumina Foundation to meet its Goal 2025, which strives to boost the percentage of Americans with postsecondary degrees and credentials to 60% by 2025. If this goal is met, it will ensure the American workforce has the talent it needs to thrive.”

How does that work? If sixty percent have those degrees and credentials then they will thrive, assuming they have the right education for the right job. But why would this have anything to do with the whole work force, including the other forty percent? They aren’t going to get these better jobs. This goal smells of collectivist fallacies.

Like I said, there may be great reasons why a specific person should not drop out of college. I’m not encouraging anyone to do so. But the college dropout rate should not be a national concern.

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