Public Agenda study cites high tuition costs for college drop-out rate
As college tuition prices soar and the economy continues to financially limit families, more college students are forced to work to support themselves. According to a study released by Public Agenda (a nonpartisan, nonprofit group), this is the number-one reason why most college students drop out.
The study, “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them,” surveyed 614, 22-30 year olds that had a history of some college education but had not completed their degrees. Of this group, six out of 10 people said that the reason they dropped out of college was because balancing academics with work was too stressful to maintain.
“It is definitely a problem in frequency and severity more than before,” said M.J. Alhabeeb, professor of resource economics at the University of Massachusetts.
Scholarships are providing less money, and on-campus jobs are harder to find, according to Alhabeeb. He also mentioned that the recession is making it so that families cannot afford to support their children through college, and it’s becoming more difficult for students to receive financial aid, loans and grants.
According to Joseph Berger, associate professor and department chair of educational policy, research and administration at UMass, working does not necessarily have a negative effect on students that work less than 15 hours per week. Berger added that some studies even show that on-campus jobs help students learn time management and efficiency.
However, when students work more than 15 hours a week, there is a trend of negative effects on students’ grades, the time it takes them to earn a degree and the likeliness of them graduating at all, according to Berger.
“In 2004, 78 percent of all college students worked. Of those, almost 90 percent worked more than 15 hours a week,” he said. “Most students that work are working more than they should if they want to be successful with their grades and in college.”
Richard Gately, a sophomore at Middlesex Community College, said he is happy to be working only one job instead of the two he was previously balancing with school. He worked 25 hours a week at Planet Fitness for the past six months to put himself through school, buy books, pay for his car insurance and buy food.
“It definitely gets stressful during exams because work takes up time from studying,” Gately said. “I do feel as though if I didn’t work, my school work would be much easier and less stressful because my weekly schedule would be way less time consuming.”
Maria Tsamasiros, a sophomore at UMass, said she works 20 to 35 hours per week as a hostess at Fitzwilly’s in Northampton, and recently switched her major from political science to communications because the political science major was too difficult to balance with her work schedule.
“I got caught up in work and stopped reading for classes,” she said. “My GPA dropped 0.6 [points] last semester.”
Students who work through college generally take longer to graduate than students who do not work, according to the study by Public Agenda, which found that 20 percent of students enrolled in two-year institutions finish within three years, and four in 10 students enrolled in four-year institutions finish within six years.
According to Alhabeeb, his son, M.J. Alhabeeb, Jr., is currently facing the same stressful struggles as many American college students nationwide. Alhabeeb, Jr. began attending the University of California, Los Angeles to study film in the fall of 2008 with a student loan of $65,000 for the 2008-09 academic year. However, when he returned for his sophomore year, the university told him they weren’t going to give him any money.
In order to maintain his enrollment, Alhabeeb, Jr. cut down the number of classes he was taking per semester so he could work full time at an appliance store to pay for school.
“He has been taking two classes a semester, but now he is thinking of taking only one,” Alhabeeb said. “It is very difficult for him.”
The study also found that most students that drop out of school do not realize the consequences of not earning a college degree.
“We know that individuals that have earned college degrees have a much greater earning potential than students who don’t earn a college degree,” Berger said. “As of the last census in the state of Massachusetts, individuals of working age had earned over $21,000 more a year than students who didn’t earn a bachelor’s degree.”
According to Alhabeeb, the economy itself may also face future consequences if more students drop out of college.
“We need more and more college graduates because life is getting more complicated with computers and technology. The economy needs an educated youth to produce the next leaders and entrepreneurs of this country,” Alhabeeb said. “If a significant number of students drop out of college and never earn a degree, it would cut off the blood of the economy.”
Anna Meiler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org