College Dropouts Hurt More Than Just Themselves

College Dropouts

Photo: JKD Atlanta

If you or a family member has gone to college, or even so much as taken a look at possible costs, you know how much higher education can cost.

Even in-state public tuition numbers are in the thousands of dollars, and private school annual tuition can approach or even exceed $50,000 per year. However, college costs are justified because common wisdom says that college graduates make an extra million dollars over the course of their lifetime.

However, this is only true for college graduates – not just college attendees. Though some college education could get you a slightly better job, dropping out without a degree (and with a load of student debt) can cause huge financial problems down the road.

Leaving school without a degree generally means lost time, lost income, and a lost investment in tuition and fees. And now, a new report suggests that dropping out costs not just students, but also cost taxpayers heavy amounts numbering in the billions.

The Cost of College Dropouts

A report called “Finishing the First Lap: The Cost of First-Year Student Attrition in America’s Four-Year Colleges and Universities,” released by the nonprofit American Institutes for Research, says that states paid out nearly $6.2 billion to help students who did not return for the second year at their four-year college or university.

$1.5 billion in federal funds and $1.4 billion in state funds were also paid out in grants for students who did not start their sophomore year. The report accounts for spending on average per-student state appropriations, both state and federal grants, and student retention rates.


According to the American Institutes for Research, the cost of educating students who leave school after one year makes up between 2 and 8 percent of total state appropriations in higher education. Some states, Ohio for example, have begun to move toward using completion rates to determine funding decisions, rather than just relying on total enrollment figures.

The American Institutes for Research hopes that those dollar amounts, based on government data examined by the non-profit, will force people to consider measures to help students graduate college with a degree.

Pushing Towards Graduation

Many organizations, including the Obama administration and various private foundations, are pushing for a shift of focus from making college more accessible to improving completion rates. Critics, on the other hand, contend that too many students are attending institutes of higher education in the first place, and that driving them toward graduation could waste even more taxpayer money.

The study’s authors concede that it is not without flaw: the figures examined only track whether new full-time students at 1,521 public and private institutions return for round two at the same school. In other words, certain students may be miscounted, such as students who transfer to another school or those who eventually return to school to finish their education, for example.

What Does This Mean for You?

What does this all mean for a student or parent considering a college education? For one, it means that students should not underestimate the commitment of furthering their education. A completed college education is usually financially and personally rewarding. But, it does come with a massive commitment in terms of time, tuition dollars, and lost income.

And remember, if you’re thinking about leaving school and returning later, you are only allowed one six-month deferment of federal education loans. That means that if you take a year off, you’ll have to make loan payments during the second six months, and you’ll have start paying again as soon as you finish your second college stint.

Parents, take the time to invest your time in your son or daughter’s success. If you’re going to pony up the cash, take the time to support them personally during their academic journey.  You may even want to consider looking at online courses, as a great way to start your child off at the collegiate level.

Topics: Education

2 Responses to “College Dropouts Hurt More Than Just Themselves”

  1. Briana @ GBR

    This is definitely a tough economic subject. I received a state grant that covered my four years, and several private scholarships for my first year of college. I went in my sophomore year but did not complete it for some personal reasons. I definitely felt like I “wasted” government money, but at the same times, some things are definitely unavoidable. I didn’t go into it with intentions of taking advantage, and I wish I could’ve used the money to the best of my abilities, but it’s definitely a tougher subject. Less black and white, more gray.

  2. Interesting point about how much money is spent on students who drop out. I think we need a combination of improving graduation rates AND guiding some students to other options like 2 year programs.

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