Study: Nearly Half Of America’s College Students Drop Out Before Receiving A Degree

The high cost of college and other factors are causing American students to drop out before receiving their degree at higher rates than in other developed countries, according to a new study from Harvard University. Only 56 percent of the students who enter America’s colleges and universities graduate within six years, while only 29 percent of students who enter two-year programs complete their degrees within three years, the study found.

The Harvard study is backed by other research showing that Americans complete college at lower rates than the other, poorer countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development:

The Harvard study’s assertions are supported by data collected by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development for its report “Education at a Glance 2010.” Among 18 countries tracked by the OECD, the United States finished last (46 percent) for the percentage of students who completed college once they started it. That puts the United States behind Japan (89 percent), and former Soviet-bloc states such as Slovakia (63 percent) and Poland (61 percent).

One factor in the higher drop-out rates, according to the Harvard study, is the rising cost of a college education. The cost of college has nearly sextupled since 1985 and the total amount of student loan debt held by Americans surpassed $1 trillion in 2011. With as many as 25 percent of borrowers behind on their loans, the number of Americans seeking relief from student loan debt has increased substantially.


At for-profit colleges, the problems are even worse. More than three-quarters of for-profit students fail to earn a degree after six years, according to a 2011 report, and for-profit students are even more likely to default on their loans than regular students.