Students Are In College, But Fewer Graduate

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

November 22, 2005

There are more students enrolling in higher education, but what happens to the high numbers when it comes time to graduate? It is surprising how low the graduation rate really is.

The national average--meaning both private and public schools--have a 4-year graduation rate of about 35 percent. Give them a little more time, and the 6-year plan graduates just over 54 percent of it's students.

To look at the college numbers we go back to high school where nationally only 68 percent of students finish in four years.

"They're moving in with people or they're just getting jobs or helping out with the family more," said high school junior Jenna Cerrone.

Starting with a group of 100 ninth graders only about 20 will finish college.

"There has been pressure on the K-12 system for many many years now to do a better job," said David Breneman, an educational economist. "We're seeing modest, but definite improvements in the educational skills at that level."

Being ill-prepared can attribute for some drop-outs, but a another reason is finances--especially after the first year. These low graduation numbers may have an effect on society as a whole.

"We may actually have a less educated group following a group of quite highly educated Americans and that's a scary prospect. That's not a menu for success in this economy," Breneman said.

Highly educated people are in demand, which means more pressure in the high end, but some fear the middle class may fall out.

"Those jobs are getting competed out of this country and...with globalization those jobs are moving off-shore," said Breneman.

Some colleges are instituting programs like AccessUVa which encourage further education for low-income students.

Looking at the 50 states, a study shows Virginia is doing well in preparation, access, and persistence to get people into college, but has low grades in affordability.

UVa's graduation rates are among the highest in the nation at about 92 percent.

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