Finishing the First Lap: The Cost of First-Year Student Attrition in America’s Four-Year Colleges and Universities
Nationally, only about 60 percent of students graduate from four-year colleges and universities within six years. According to an analysis by AIR vice president Mark Schneider, more than $9 billion was spent by state and federal governments to support students at four-year colleges and universities who left school before their sophomore year during a five-year period.
In Finishing the First Lap: The Cost of First Year Student Attrition in America’s Four Year Colleges and Universities, AIR researchers analyzed 2003-2008 data from the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and found that the 30 percent of first-year college students who failed to return to campus for a second year accounted for $6.2 billion in state appropriations for colleges and universities and more than $1.4 billion in student grants from the states. Additionally, the federal government provided $1.5 billion in grants to these students. The study did not examine community colleges, where first-year dropout rates are even higher.
With high dropout rates, come high losses in state monies: The report found that thirteen states posted more than $200 million of state funds lost to students dropping out before the second year of college. The study did not look at the costs to taxpayers of students who drop out sometime after their sophomore year.
Finishing the First Lap serves as the foundation for a new interactive website, CollegeMeasures.org, which is a joint endeavor by AIR and Matrix Knowledge Group to help improve outcomes and performance among higher education institutions. Graduation rates and expenditure data for all 50 states, six metropolitan areas and more than 1,500 institutions can be found at the site. The website allows users to evaluate the performance of colleges and state systems on a range of measures, including student progression and graduation rates, graduates’ ability to secure gainful employment, the efficiency and productivity of education-related expenditures, the cost of student attrition, and the amount of financial aid going to students who do not graduate.