The United States has a dropout crisis. Sixty percent of people go to college these days, but just half of the college students graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Some people earn a shorter, two-year associate’s degree. But more than a quarter of those who start college drop out with no credential.
Despite the rising cost of education, a college degree is one of the best investments that a young person can make. In 2015, median earnings among workers aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree were $43,000, compared with $25,000 for those with just a high school diploma. Over a lifetime, a person with a bachelor’s degree typically earns $800,000 more than someone who has completed only high school, even after netting out tuition costs.
The financial prospects for college dropouts are poor, for two reasons. First, dropouts earn little more than people with no college education. Second, many dropouts have taken on student loans, and with their low wages, they have difficulty paying off even small balances. Dropouts account for much of the increase in financial distress among student borrowers since the Great Recession.