VSAC study: Too many Vermont students drop out of college

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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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