First-year college dropouts cost taxpayers billions, study finds

Taxpayers have shelled out billions of dollars on assistance to college students who dropped out after their first year.

Wasted money?

In a study released this month, the nonprofit American Institutes for Research suggested that much of it is.

“Unless we find ways to increase the number of students who return to complete their college degrees,” the U.S. will lag further behind in the number of college-educated citizens in this century, it said.

“In the meantime, we continue to spend far too much money on students who don’t even finish the first lap, let alone fail to cross the finish line.”

Students are spending more, too — for classes that don’t lead to degrees — because public universities have been raising tuition to make up for declining state support.

Nationally, only about 60 percent of students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities graduate within six years.

Area university officials do not dispute that they need to grant more degrees, but argue that the report ignores that in today’s society and the current economy, the track to graduation may have many detours or stops and starts.

Kathy Love, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Higher Education, noted that the study “doesn’t track whether or not students who leave after a year eventually return to college.”

“We know that higher education is not a linear process,” she said. “Some students stop and come back part time. The study discounts a year’s worth of education as if it is money lost when, in fact, it is a building block.”

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