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California ranks 1st in spending on first-year college students who drop out, study says

At a time when California’s institutions of public higher education are battling to maintain state funding, a new report has found that over a five-year period, the state spent nearly half a billion dollars to educate first-year college students who dropped out before their sophomore year.

The report, "Finishing the First Lap: The Cost of First Year Student Attrition in America’s Four Year Colleges and Universities," found that California ranked first in the nation in the amount of taxpayer funds -- $467 million -- spent on students at four-year colleges who failed to return for a second year. Texas, at $441 million, and New York, at $403 million, ranked second and third, respectively, the report showed.

The study by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research, for release Monday, analyzed federal data on retention rates at hundreds of four-year colleges and universities and calculations of state education funding between 2003 and 2008.

Nationally, about 30% of first-year students fail to return to campus for a second year.

Overall, states spent $6.2 billion in general funds and $1.4 billion in grants to colleges and universities for first-year students who did not return, according to the study. Additionally, the federal government issued $1.5 billion in grants to these students.

The federal data do not track students who transfer or go on to complete their studies at other institutions, acknowledged study author Mark Schneider, a vice president at the nonprofit institute. But other federal measures indicate that most students who leave do not return to complete a degree.

“There are taxpayer dollars, large amounts of money going out the door to students who are not coming back the next year,” Schneider said in an interview. “In the K-12 world, we are saying schools are responsible for the success of students. In higher education, we haven’t done that yet and we need to do that.”

The study does not look at reasons for student attrition nor seek to blame them for their lack of success. It also is not a call for disinvestment in higher education but rather a challenge to state governments to demand institutions do a better job, Schneider said.

"We need to start thinking about students as clients and start asking what do they need and how do we satisfy their needs," Schneider said. "It’s a question of productivity and efficiency and how school get better at what they’re doing."

In California, non-returning first-year students at public colleges accounted for about $425 million in state appropriations and $41.7 million in state grants to students in the five years studied, according to the report. Federal grants for the students totaled almost $61 million.

For more information on the report, go to www.CollegeMeasures.org.

-- Carla Rivera




Comments () | Archives (14)

Many first-year college students are not proficient in English and need to take remedial courses. Some need remedial math courses as well. In this particular area of California, many students from LAUSD are those who are not proficient. I would put part of the blame on principals who do not ensure that staff follow best teaching practices and check on classrooms periodically, teachers who do not choose to follow best teaching practices, and a district policy that lets students move up to the next grade even if they do no work whatsoever - many first year high school students have failed every class they took in middle school, knowing they did not need to work to get into high school. I have had these students in my high school classroom: I have also had these students in remedial classes at local community colleges, some of whom cannot put together a complete sentence, let alone write an essay. As long as there is no accountability for principals and other administrators in LAUSD, there will be no change.

In California there is too much grade inflation in high schools, many students can't do math, and many write badly, but they still get accepted to universities. Send them to community colleges to get some skills.

the dumb american idea, everybody a college graduate! who is gonna work then, the illegals? is that why we need them? how about the "students" being responsible for their actions? NO, college is too hard, make it easy and pass everyone like high school!

The model pursued in the US for the last century is that a college education is the only respectable goal for everyone graduating from high school: We need to create a complimentary system of post-secondary advanced skills and trades schools, in order to develop a highly trained and diverse workforce able to meet the challenges facing the country in the 21st century: Traditional college degrees are not the only path to success, both for individuals, and the nation.

They should probably mention the fact that the top 3 states in this ranking are also the top 3 most populous states.

Its a scam and the Anchor babies of America are taking full advantage of it and taking the money and running.

That money would have been better used in our sadly dysfunctional and overcrowded K - 12 educational system. Without a strong base, failure is inevitable.

Given that California has such a large population relative to other states, its number one ranking is no surprise. It would be far more helpful if the report would enable us to identify those who are likely to drop out.

That's a lot of money. My question is what is the per student cost? California has the largest population so it's not surprising we top the list on this cost. A more accurate comparison would be analyzed as a per student cost. Then we can see what other state systems are doing to retain kids after the first year of college that we're not doing.

These numbers are hard to interpret unless you scale them by population. Could you provide us with average $ amount *per* student who dropped out after 1 year instead? That then might be a useful indicator of something like waste. Interesting idea though...thanks!

My daughters go to college. I think if most parents knew how much drinking and partying goes on they would think twice about sending their kids to college. No wonder so many drop outs. Are you people surprised?

It cost billions to tax payers and more to individuals who don't finish college.

More info is needed to determine why so many drop out of college. What is their home life? finances? work situation? Do they drop out because of reasons beyond ability or lack of ability to handle the rigor of college?

I am glad the report took the time to point out some of the things that are not covered in this study. For example: in California Community Colleges, especially in urban areas, many of our students are returning students who were at one time, first year drop outs. Community colleges provide a unique opportunity for citizens to find out if a college education is actually the right path for them. Thus, even when students drop after their first year, this is still valuable both to the students and to society. Too many people who focus on the cost of education fail to consider that education has many values and many purposes. Completing college and earning a degree are not the only valuable goals. Helping someone discover that they should be pursuing another road is valuable to the individual and society as well. And, many of them will find their way back to college years later when they have not found a better path only because they recall their first attempt and are encouraged to try again. Cardinal Newman established a very basic principle: education is valuable for its own sake. There is simply no down-side to providing someone access to education, regardless of the outcome.


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