A Higher Purpose

HIGHER EDUCATION: Students who do not return to college after their first year cause us to examine the broader state of higher education.

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Leaving school has its costs and, for the state's public universities, the price tag is considerable for taxpayers. A study prepared by the American Institutes for Research found that during a five-year span, $467 million of California's taxpayer funds were spent on students who did not return for their second year of college. After analyzing retention rates for four-year institutions nationwide, the study determined that California lost more money on these students than any other state did.

This single study sparks a lot of questions about K-12 education and the economic climate, since both can play major parts in a student's decision not to return to school. Perhaps this is a sign of problematic public schools inadequately preparing students for the next step, an issue that cannot be reflected in one report. Public universities are also far from blameless in cases where students are only on campus for one year. Campuses throughout the state must make better efforts to inform shell-shocked freshman of all the resources and options available to them.

Yet the cost of drop-outs should be evaluated beyond their fiscal impact and beyond who should be blamed. In light of this study, we can more generally focus on expectations for education in our current generation.

The general expectation in high schools and within communities urges students to pursue a higher education degree, regardless of whether or not they actually want to. Currently, the mindset that "everyone should go to college" is a flawed model. Respectable alternatives like vocational school or technical training are perfectly acceptable for those seeking a different track.

Nobody should go for the sake of going to college without an expressed interest of learning more in the classroom setting. Yet while college might not be the best option for people today, we should get to a point in our society where everyone wants to pursue higher eduction.

This is a large issue with more complexity that cannot be conveyed in this space alone. Although daunting, the state, schools, universities and students must make an effort to continue the discussion. We all could benefit from paying closer attention to public education.

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