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Survey examines motivation for degree completion

A newly released survey conducted by UPCEA (formerly the University Professional and Continuing Education Association) and Straighterline, an alternative course credit provider, examines the myriad reasons that students leave higher education institutions prior to graduation. According to the study, more than half of people who left college without a degree complete at least 50% of the requirements for degree completion.

The survey studied former students who pursued a four-year degree, but the results likely apply to anyone pursuing a post-secondary degree. Among the findings was this:
Nearly half (48%) of survey respondents said they would consider a degree completion program to increase their salaries. Another 44% said they would consider going back to school to achieve a personal goal. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they would return to school as a way to advance their careers, and 29% said they would return to school to facilitate a career change.

In other words, three of the four most common motivators involved earnings or career reasons. If those are reasons to complete a degree, they were likely reasons to start a degree program, too.

Nearly half of survey respondents wanted a better salary, but what do students do when they discover that their degree program won’t lead to a substantially better salary? They leave school.

Many states (Michigan included) are very interested in having people complete a degree program, but most people don’t complete a degree as part of a personal enrichment plan. They expect better earnings, better working conditions, or a better career. Many community college programs don’t deliver on that.

Salary, career options drive degree completion

The Department of Education’s new “gainful employment” rules will apply to publicly funded two-year colleges that offer certificate programs. It will be interesting to see how many certificate programs survive this level of scrutiny, which focuses on a program’s debt-to-earnings ratio and the “earnings premium” – the difference between what a post-secondary graduate earns relative to what a high school graduate earns.

The debt-to-earnings ratio for most community college students, whether seeking a certificate or a degree, is not the test that these schools will fail. Rather, what will trip certificate schools up is the “earnings premium” test. The Department of Education has signaled that it will consider a certificate program to be a “waste” if it cannot lift the earnings of a graduate beyond what a high school graduate would make.

Most community college graduates don’t make a living wage, even years after degree completion. Under these circumstances, it is no mystery where all the community college students have gone. They’ve gone to work, where they can make at least as much money as they could make without having gone to school.

Photo Credit: State Farm, via Flickr