VSAC study: Too many Vermont students drop out of college

Within five years, two-thirds of all new jobs will require workers to have more education than just high school.

By 2022, there will be 10,000 new jobs available in Vermont that require at least a post-secondary certificate.

Vermont has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the nation, but the state lags behind neighboring states and the nation when it comes to the number of students that go on to college. Studies show that 45.5 percent of Vermonters hold a post-secondary degree.

Policymakers would like 60 percent of Vermont’s working age adults to have a higher education degree by 2020.

While 60 percent of Vermont’s high school graduates enroll in post-secondary programs, 14 percent drop out, according to a report released Monday by the Vermont Student Assistance Corp. (VSAC).

Scott Giles, the CEO of VSAC, says the state needs to help students re-enroll.

“While we see most Vermont students being successful once they get to college, it is concerning that 14 percent of students drop out after the first year,” Giles said. “We need to take additional steps to help this group continue their path to higher education and training. Today’s economy demands a skilled workforce. Education after high school is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”

VSAC’s report, “Vermont’s Class of 2012: Highlights and Challenges for Pursuing a Postsecondary Education” is the second in a series. The data is based on a survey of 2012 high school seniors.

“The purpose of this report is to present Vermont’s policymakers with deeper insights into the complexity of the postsecondary experience of our youth, as well as provide information that can help inform decisions about the investment of resources,” said Giles.

The estimates are a baseline for measuring progress toward the state’s 60 percent post-secondary goal. Information from the National Student Clearinghouse is used to track post-secondary trends and to assess obstacles Vermont students face as they pursue higher education.

The summer right after high school is a critical time – between 8 percent and 40 percent of high school graduates who intend to sign up for post-secondary programs the fall after high school graduation don’t enroll, according to national researchers.

This phenomena is called “summer melt,” and VSAC’s survey shows that 16 percent of Vermont seniors graduating in 2012 who planned to enroll in a two- or four-year post-secondary program in the U.S. did not actually go on to college.

The report cites several factors, including finances, parental expectations and competency in mathematics.

VSAC found that the summer melt rates were “dramatically linked to academic preparation.”
Students who finished advanced math courses, such as Algebra II, Integrated Math III or the equivalent were less likely to change course than those who did not finish higher level coursework. Sixty-seven percent of graduates that completed advanced math enrolled in college as opposed to 24 percent who did not. (See the graphic on page 17 of the report posted at the end of this story.)

Those who had some AP courses under their belts were also less likely to veer from plans to attend college. Likewise, students with C averages were less likely to continue on with their academics as opposed to those with a B average and above.

Nearly 72 percent of first generation students who reported that their parents wanted them to go to college enrolled and 83 percent who were not first generation but whose parents made college a priority also enrolled. Those who didn’t feel it mattered to their parents were less likely to enroll – 34 percent of first generation and 59 percent of students whose parents had some higher education.

“When we include completion rates of higher math, higher GPA and student’s perceptions of what their parents want them to do, student’s enrollment rates increase,” the report states.

Money is also a concern among students who didn’t go to college as planned. Those who didn’t enroll the following fall were much less likely to have saved for college, or to have applied for financial aid or loans. Giles says that this indicates there continues to be a need to assist families with financial planning (a service VSAC provides). Nearly a quarter of the students who had planned to go to college but failed to do so said they were really concerned about being able to pay for it.

Generally, students who planned to enroll full time were going to go to a four-year school. But those students that were going to go part time were more likely to have plans to attend a two-year institution. This reflects the difficulty of balancing school work and full-time employment, states the report.

“Research suggests that working more than 20 hours per week, particularly off campus, and enrolling as part-time students has adverse effects on continued postsecondary enrollment,” according to the report.

Those who fail to complete the two-year degree may still have student debt to pay off and will find it more difficult to find high paying employment that allows them to repay their loans.

“Until recently, most research and attention was devoted to enrollment rates, but increasingly the focus has turned to how many students actually continue and graduate – an obvious issue with higher education costs, student debt, aging demographics and a struggling economy over the past eight years,” said Giles.

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Tiffany Danitz Pache

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  • David Cadran

    I’ve found that the current college structure is not relevant to today’s student needs. We need more innovative programs like Green Mountain College’s Online Advanced Start Bachelors degree program or General Assembly’s Coding Boot Camps. These are the programs of the future.

  • Aula DeWitt

    This article and the studies which it reports outline some of the issues, but omits some potential solutions such as stream lining college so that students pursue the course work specific to their chosen degree program, which would allow completion in 3 years [or less?] with a BA/BS and significantly lower debt. Online classes are coming into use more extensively and, when used well, are also helpful. Not all classes can be conducted solely on line though.

    I also think that placing such a heavy emphasis on college degrees is not going to do society any favors. We continue to need laborers, plumbers, electricians, and many others who do not require a college degree in order to complete their work. And, let’s be honest, there are young folks who are not ready for college as they finish high school, and wisely recognize that. Some later do enroll and complete a degree. These studies do not appear to be accounting for those less traditional students. I would rather see my children take a break from education and eventually make a more mature decision about their career path and related training than to dive into college right out of high school and earn some degree they never use and be saddled with crushing debt along with that unwanted degree.

    We as a society need to recognize that college is not a guaranteed path to the right career for every child in the US and, at that the whole college system, including funding thereof, needs to be revamped to allow those who are seeking that education to be able to do so expeditiously and with as little financial burden as possible.

    I am the parent of a college student with the Vermont State College system.

  • Max D. Meridi

    Getting students into college and then successfully through their first year (and into their second) is certainly well, good, and laudable.

    But what happens after that?

    US News College Rankings lists 4 and 6 year graduation rates at many of the colleges and universities it ranks. Choosing from a few reporting Vermont institutions (see below), I calculated an average 4 year graduation rate of 51.8% and a average 6 year graduation rate of 63%.

    -4/6-year graduation rates (according to US News rankings)-
    – Bennington College – 58%/67%
    – Castleton State College – 37%/50%
    – Champlain College – 52%/57%
    – University of Vermont – 66%/76%
    – Vermont Technical College – 46%/65%

    Four year tuition alone (not including room and board) at some of these schools can run over $100,000 (with some over $200,000.) At 6 years?

    And then there are the students who didn’t graduate after 4 or 6 years, and still face a lifetime of crushing debt, or just a major financial loss. What happens to them? There are certainly more of them to be considered than the 14% that dropped out in year one.

    US News Colleges and Rankings

    Some interesting points from the linked Report by VSAC :

    “There is a 14-point difference in enrollment
    rates by gender in Vermont (67 percent for females and 53 percent for males)”

    “At two-year institutions, 39 percent of first-year students dropped out after
    one year”

    The significant problems in both our higher and lower education systems aren’t just brewing, anymore. They’re here.

  • Moshe Braner

    This article seems to conflate causation and correlation. Those are are more prepared are more likely to enroll? Perhaps it is the other way around, those who are more determined to enroll work harder to prepare, whether by advanced courses, or saving up money?

  • David Dempsey

    Most students who plan to go to college have applied and hopefully been accepted before summer. The article says that somewhere between 8% and 40% who plan to go to college change their mind during the summer after graduation. That means the number of students who succumb to “summer melt” is either a drop in the bucket or a tidal wave. Way to go VSAC for pinpointing the scope of the problem.

    • Margaret Hanzimanolis

      50% of the faculty, nationwide, serve as PT college faculty (PTF). The VSC system relies even more heavily than most on PTF, as does Champlain. Nationwide, the rate of pay for PTF is about $25,000 annualized income. IIN Vermont it is about $28,000 per year. That is what a PTF would earn if he or she worked FT at PTF per/course rates of pay. You cannot build a healthy higher education system by relying on an army of poorly paid faculty, generally without access to health coverage, sufficient retirement, job security of some kind, or a liveable wage. The student loan debt burden of the 700 PTF working in the Vermont State College system alone can be estimated at over 15 million dollars. (figured at $21,000 per faculty- less than the average indebtedness, nationally). VSAC has a responsibility to work out a debt forgiveness program for PTF working in the state college system. And the state legislature has a responsibility for rebuilding a higher education system that is not based on through-put. A through-put model that is dependent on job insecure faculty has a tremendous potential for, guess what, through-put students in order to secure employment
      Both VSAC and VSC and the HE funding models pursued by the state Legislature are to blame. VSAC was unjustly enriched by shady practices, in which they took the federal government’s generous interest rate guarantees and subsidies when borrowers were in hardship AND charged the borrowers. In a way, VSAC and the VSC system conspired to drive highly indebted professionals into debt peonage. A MA is the minimum educational requirement for teaching at the tertiary level, so virtually alll, or most, VSC professors are dealing not only with poverty wages but also with high indebtedness. VSAC provided 0 % student loans to doctors and lawyers, while academics with similar educational demands, paid the full interest rate, AND were the most significant “subsidy” of the HE system in Vermont. The first thing VSAC could do is cancel all interest rate costs of the PTF working in the system. VSC must agree to pay PTF pro-rata pay, based on the full time payscale. And the education profiteers must be reigned in via legislation.