Friday nights on Russell Boulevard may reflect the romanticized vision of college, but the reality of college life for many American students is less Animal House, and more of a struggle to cover bills.
A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation study on college dropouts, “with their lives ahead of them” surveyed 614 22- to 30-year-olds with at least some post-secondary education.
According to the study, 45 percent of students in four-year institutions work more than 20 hours per week. Six in 10 community college students work more than 20 hours per week, more than a quarter of those students work more than 35 hours per week.
The study dispelled several drop out myths, such as the notion that dropouts find college work too difficult, or are bored by their classes. Work and financial difficulty are the most commonly cited reasons for dropping out, with ethnic minorities among the highest of college dropouts.
Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos are both the most represented ethnic groups among college dropouts and the groups that tend to come from low socio-economic status.
Among UC students, the most commonly cited reasons for dropping out are academic difficulty and lack of mentorship, said the 2008 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey on academic obstacles. Paralleling national statistics, under-privileged groups in the UC system are the most likely to drop out.
“Your first obligation in school is that of a student not a worker,” said Aaron Long, an African American student who works over 30 hours a week to help pay his way through college. “I’m the first in my family to go to college, and there is tremendous pressure to finish.”
The Gates study showed students from low socio-economic backgrounds are likely to attend a school based on the convenience of location rather than academic interest.
These students are far less likely to spend their summer vacations visiting colleges, and less likely to go through the stresses of the college application process that many students from affluent families do.
“There needs to be a more extensive outreach program by the UCs and the CSUs to make sure that people of color are given the same opportunity as others,” Long said.
Only four in 10 college students receive a degree from a four-year institution in six years, according to the US Department of Education. In response to the US’s bleak graduation rate, President Obama called for measures to ensure that an extra 5 million Americans would complete college in the next decade.
“I think that offering more scholarships would help, and making students aware that there are scholarships out there,” said Deonna Anderson, a student intern at the Cross Cultural Center. “A lot of students don’t know what is available.”
The Gates Foundation study advocates for universities to make it possible for part-time students to receive financial aid, and for more night and evening classes in order to make graduation more feasible for students working over 20 hours per week.
GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at email@example.com.