When Kanye West released “The College Dropout” in 2004, the world listened. On this critically acclaimed album, West spoke about social issues affecting the black community and the album chronicled his road from college dropout to world-renowned success.
It’s a story that many of our peers have dreamed of following, a story that we have allowed to fill both our hearts and lecture halls.
But what is the true cost of dropping out of college? Does the short-term burden make for long-time reward?
Robin Thornhill, Howard University School of Communication’s Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, believes that there is no long-term reward.
“In my conversations with students, I find students think that dropping out is not that serious. Especially when they feel like they’re not getting what they came to college for. The dream they had in mind of a college education,” Thornhill said. “There’s so many obstacles for them, mainly financial obstacles. They are at a point where they feel like well… ‘maybe I just need to get a job. Cause I really don’t want to delay the gratification of doing what I want to do any longer. I just want my paper.’”
Though 70 percent of Americans matriculate to higher education, less than two-thirds graduate, according to a 2013 report by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
And of those who graduate, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that less than half of graduating students complete their bachelors in four years. Conversely, 25 percent of students complete their bachelors within six years.
“Completing college in four years seems like a myth to me. A lot of things change throughout the span of college,” senior biology major Maya Tomes said. “It’s also hard for me to say why people drop out. I suppose no one has those answers. The answers are harder to come by when talking about the cards blacks are dealt.”
Black college students are often dealt, as Tomes stated, a unique set of cards. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that though 65 percent of black high school graduates enroll in higher education, only 20 percent of blacks finish with a four-year degree.
The rising costs of attending college is also an insuperable burden for many Howard University students. Since many graduating seniors in the class of 2015 have been attending The Mecca, the cost of tuition has gone up by over $1,000.
“Graduating college was once a rite of passage to a higher paying job but what is a higher paying job when we are signing our lives away to debt,” Tomes said.
As college debt becomes an increasingly larger problem in a tangled web of public, private and subsidized loans, less attention has been brought to the needs of those who attend and then have to unenroll.
The 2012 census report states that roughly 66 million Americans over 25 years old have some college credits but haven’t received a diploma.
According to think tank, Education Sector, those who drop out have higher unemployment rates and make less money than those who graduated. Borrowers who drop out are over four times more likely to default on their loans than their peers who don’t.
A 2011 study conducted by the Institute for Higher Education Policy reports that 58 percent of the 1.8 million borrowers whose student loans began to be due in 2005 hadn’t received a degree. Close to 59 percent of them were delinquent on their loans or had already defaulted, compared to 38 percent from those who graduated college.
In contrast, a study by The Hamilton Project suggests that men and women who drop out of college can financially benefit from the degree they didn’t complete.
The study found that the estimated lifetime earnings for college dropouts are roughly $100,000 higher than those who ended their education with secondary school. College dropouts could also earn up to $8,000 more per year than their peers who ended their education with high school. Measured by the rate of return, some college is beneficial but still significantly less than completing an associates or bachelors degree.
Though this study didn’t measure how student debt affects the potential $8,000 former college students could earn, with loan payments, this money may not go very far.
“It’s important for students to count the costs before starting college. They need to have a plan of action for starting strong and finishing strong,” Thornhill said. “I think it’s important that they understand that just by dropping out, it’s not going to make things easier. I think a lot of time students feel like ‘if I drop out and work… I’ll be done with it.’ But you have to consider student loans. You have to also consider that without a college education, there will be positions that you really want but aren’t qualified for.”
(For your listening pleasure.)