Every year, thousands of Texas high school graduates continue their educations at community colleges, but only a fraction --16.2 percent according to a recent study -- will ever go on to complete a four-year degree.
A number of factors contribute to such an abysmal college completion rate, most of which are fairly obvious. As a general rule, more academically accomplished students go straight to four-year universities. Some of those who don't get an associate's degree and go home. There's the struggle to pay for one's education which, even at two-year schools, can be tough. And then, there's work.
It's the latter factor that Florida State University Professor Toby J. Park homes in on in a recent study of 38,000 Texas community college students and their chances of graduating after "stopouts" or periods of non-enrollment.
He summarizes his findings in a handy flowchart:
The number of community college students who put their education on hold at least once, 96 percent, is staggering. The causes are complex, but Park discovers in the course of his data-crunching that, for every 1 percent increase in a student's wages at work, "we see a whopping 13 percent decrease in the odds of graduation."
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This makes some amount of sense. The more one makes without a degree, the less worthwhile it seems to slave away for one. Given the cavernous gap in the lifetime earnings of those with four-year degrees and those without, such thinking is short-sighted and, Park argues, needs to be addressed.
"The resounding message is one of 'work less and study more,' however, this is simply not an option for many community college students," Park says. "How could we improve student success with the understanding that many students are working?"
Park suggests that the answer, at least in part, is financial aid. Should be easy. Texas is always eager to pour more money into higher education.
(h/t Inside Higher Ed)