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Degree cost, work conflicts top dropout reasons

A new survey released today by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation show that 87% of people who left college without a degree or credential cited cost as the primary reason. Gallup surveyed more than 5,000 former students. Right behind cost was the need to work. Eight out of ten respondents said that conflicts between work and school made it impossible to continue their studies.

Other important reasons, including mental well-being, the time required to complete a degree program, and the ease with which the respondents could find a job without a degree also factored strongly into the decision to leave school. Not surprisingly, half of respondents cited childcare or the need to care for another family member as a significant contributor to disenrolling.

Interestingly, of those who had dropped out, 28% said that they had also considered returning to school to earn an associate degree. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said that they had also considered returning to school to earn a certificate or industry certification.

The survey, which was conducted on behalf of the Lumina Foundation for its State of Higher Education 2024 report, found that even among former students who left before graduating or who had never enrolled in post-secondary classes, though that a credential was either “extremely” or “very” important.

However, among all credential types, an associate degree registered lowest in terms of value (60%), behind graduate degrees (80%), bachelor’s degrees and industry certifications (75%), certificates (64%). Conversely, respondents saw associate degrees as the credential with minimal or no value (10%), compared to certificates (7%), bachelor’s degrees (6%), graduate degrees (5%), and industry certifications (4%).

So, it appears as though associate degrees and certificates have a perception problem when it comes to their value. That tracks with the steep decline in enrollment at community colleges.

WCC’s degree strategy needs some work

It also points to a serious strategy problem on WCC’s part. WCC specializes in vending the two types of credentials that people see the least amount of value in having. From this perspective, WCC’s enrollment isn’t going to improve until someone decides that increasing the value of a degree or certificate is a priority.

There is no way around the fact that people measure the value of a college degree in terms of money: how much the degree (or other credential) costs versus its market potential. When the degree has no cost (as is the case with many community college degrees), the next determinant is time. In the Gallup survey, 81% of students said that time conflicts between work and school caused them to drop out.

When a degree program interferes with a student’s immediate ability to make money, eight out of ten students choose the job over the degree, even if the degree program has at least some potential to increase their income over the long run.

In WCC’s case, slightly more than half of their programs have the ability to raise a student’s earning potential above what they would make with just a high school diploma. And that earning potential is realized six years after graduation. That’s not exactly a selling point.

Further, only 13 out of every 100 WCC students who start an academic program there end up working at a job in their field in the first year after graduating. Also not a selling point. And 37% of students who graduate with a WCC degree never see an increase in their earning potential.

The question everyone in the County should be asking is, “When is the WCC Board of Trustees going to do something about this?”

Photo Credit: Roy, via Flickr