Don’t Let Mark Zuckerberg Fool You: Dropping Out of College Isn’t the Answer
3:30 pm, March 1st | by Colette McIntyre
The state of American higher education isn’t quite what one would expect: according to a study by Harvard University, just 56 percent of American college students graduate within six years, while only 29 percent of students enrolled in two-year programs graduate within three years. Data collected by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the United States finished last in the percentage of students who completed college once they started it. With only 46 percent of college students completing their degrees, the United States is behind the seventeen other countries studied, including Japan, Poland, and Slovakia.
Most researchers cite the rising cost of a college education as the driving force behind student dropout. The Harvard study points out that tuition costs have almost sextupled between 1980 and 2010. On average, a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree racks up more than $23,000 in debt. In 2011, American college graduates’ total amount of loan debt surpassed $1 trillion.
For the majority of college students, dropping out is the result of a “simple cost-benefit analysis.” As a 2011 Pew Research Center study explains, “for many young adults, the ultimate bottom line is whether the degree or credential they earn will help them secure a job.” Yet, as University of Chicago president Robert J. Zimmer writes in a new Atlantic article, some decisions to dropout are inspired by the (dangerously) sensationalized “dropout myth.”
The dropout myth points to the cases of “dropouts-made-good” like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and whispers, “that could be you.” The myth seduces students into believing that academia has nothing to offer the true entrepreneur and that the fast track to startup success lies outside of university gates. But the myth fails to mention how absurdly rare it is to be the next Steve Jobs. As Zimmer writes, it “ignores the outlier status of these exceptional drop-out entrepreneurs and innovators”:
Those who are able to achieve such success often rely on a set of skills already developed before they get to college. They know how to educate themselves, get a bank loan, and manage their time and their money. They may benefit from a network of family, friends and acquaintances who open doors and provide a safety net.
Most dropouts will fail to reach Zuckerberg’s or Gates’ level of stratospheric, independent success. Currently, there are 34 million Americans over 25 who have some college credits but not a degree. Dropouts are 71 percent more likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to default on their college loans. On average, these former students earn 32 percent less than college graduates.
Zimmer can’t overestimate the dangers of perpetuating the dropout myth:
Research with Chicago Public Schools students — arguably among those who have the most to gain from college education — shows that only a fraction of those qualified for selective colleges ever make it there, in part because of misconceptions about what is possible. Let’s not further diminish their prospects and ambitions. There is a proven path for economic, social and intellectual opportunity, and it leads through our college campuses.
[Via The Atlantic]
[Photo via Shutterstock]