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[Op-Ed] College Dropout Rate

Posted December. 05, 2008 00:25,   


Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Apple Chairman Steven Jobs and Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell. One thing these three business moguls have in common is that they all dropped out of college.

Gates, who dropped out of Harvard University, received an honorary degree from his alma mater last year. Dell, who was engrossed in rock music and computers, quit medical school at the University of Texas to launch a personal computer business with 1,000 U.S. dollars in 1984. Jobs, a world IT leader, said in his commencement address at Stanford University that dropping out of Reed College was one of the best decisions he made.

To those who were full of ideas and imagination, college was too old-fashioned and served as a prison. Not all college dropouts are successful, however. They tend to be more vulnerable to failure and have bitter stories to share. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education of the United States, around half of students at four-year universities do not graduate within six years. On average, only 18 of 100 U.S. college students eventually graduate, ranking the United States 15th out of 29 advanced economies. Switzerland, Japan and Australia shared first place by graduating 26 out of 100 college students.

Those falling in the low-income bracket have a higher tendency to drop out. U.S. college tuition is far higher than Korea’s. College tuition and fees, adjusted for inflation, rose 439 percent from 1982 to last year in the United States, while the median U.S. family income rose 147 percent over the same period. The education center’s head Patrick Callan warns that if tuition continues to outpace family income and the price of other necessities, middle class families will no longer be able to afford a college education. The number of college dropouts is expected to increase, however, as schools will have no choice but to increase tuition due to cuts in state funding stemming from the economic turmoil.

The United States is in a dilemma as the decrease in the number of college graduates translates into a decline in national competitiveness. Mark Penn, the author of "Micro Trends,” says the two emerging economic powers China and India churn out millions of college graduates each year, calling the college graduation rate an important indicator showing the U.S. economy’s competiveness against these countries. Korea’s college graduation rate is also coincidentally 15th, on par with the U.S. level. Korea must financially help its college students, many of whom struggle to pay tuition or drop out in the beginning of every semester.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)