By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — A recent study of local 25- to 34-year-olds with some college experience but no degree sheds some light on the decisions that lead a student to stop attending – and what it will take to get them back on track for graduation.
The two most prominent factors cited in the University of Michigan-Dearborn study for not completing a degree were time and money. About 65 percent of the study’s 599 participants said they lacked the necessary time in their schedule to return to school, and 56 percent cited personal finances as the chief barrier to earning a degree.
Perhaps the most relevant statistic gleaned from the sample was that 39 percent of respondents indicated a desire to finish their studies in some capacity. Extrapolated onto the general metropolitan Detroit community, that percentage suggests there are nearly 57,000 area students who have left college, but want to return.
The findings have UM-Dearborn officials calling on other universities and colleges to find innovative education options to make completing a degree easier for that group, referred to in the study as “stop-outs.”
“These are very significant findings that will help us to understand the opportunities and challenges we face in getting young adults with some college and no degree to return to school and complete their education,” said Daniel Little, chancellor of UM-Dearborn. “Educational institutions and government agencies can play a major role in helping these young people re-engage and complete their education, which positions them to be competitive in the new economy.” The study, conducted in ???, found that 85 percent of stop-outs had completed one or more years of college classes and 25 percent completed three years of studies. And breaking from previously held assumptions, the study found that most of the students believed they were well suited to the rigors of college, but had experienced an extenuating circumstance that prevented them from continuing.
From the study’s entire sample of stop-out students, four main demographics emerged. The first group is identified as successful stop-outs and comprises 19 percent of the entire stop-out group.
The majority are white males, about 30 years old and with an average annual household income of at least $50,000. That group reported at a 90 percent rate they believed they did well academically while in college.
At 39 percent, caregiver stop-outs were the largest sample group. Its members tend to be women, about 32 years old, with about half saying they have two or more children.
Newly stopped-out students represented 19 percent of the stop-out sample. They are younger than the other groups, averaging about 26 years old, and also have the most college experience. Nearly 90 percent of that sample group reported they were not their own primary financial supporter.
The last group, at 19 percent, was identified as struggling stop-outs. That demographic is 45 percent male, averages about 26.5 years old; about half have children. Approximately 40 percent have annual household income less than $25,000 and cite financial impediments as their primary reason for leaving college.
The study hits on an issue that has been prevalent in Michigan for decades, especially in metro Detroit. A 2007 study conducted by the American Community Survey Estimates, the area contains the highest proportion relative to any other major metropolitan area across the country of 25- to 34-year-olds with some college experience but no degree.
As a state, Michigan’s stop-out population is third only to Alaska and New Mexico. And with the rapid contraction of good-paying jobs that don’t require degrees, it’s a culture that has to change, Little said.
“We need to be responsive to these young adults and help them re-engage in their educational pursuits so that they can be competitive in today’s marketplace,” he said. “As we look to the future, there are going to be great opportunities for young people as new technologies and the changing economic landscape create new career paths.
“We have a responsibility to help these young people realize their full potential, and the best way to do that is to give them the chance to complete their college degrees.”
By J. PATRICK PEPPER