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The Higher Ed Balancing Act

by Scott Bittle

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

A new report on work and education underscores a key irony in higher education: too many students have trouble getting the degree they'll need for jobs in the future because they're too busy working at the job they have now.

Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce reported this week that the number of jobs requiring an associates' degree or more will grow faster than the pool of qualified people, to the tune of a three-million-worker shortfall by 2018. People who drop out, or even those with just a high school education, will increasingly find themselves left behind in the marketplace, the center said.

Yet Public Agenda's research has found one reason for the nation's dismal college completion rate is the difficult juggling act so many students have to perform between work, school and family responsibilities. In our survey of young adults, With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them, we found more than half of those who left higher ed before completing a degree say that the "need to work and make money" while attending classes is the major reason they left.

Balancing work and school was an even bigger barrier than finding money for tuition. In fact, those who dropped out are almost twice as likely to cite problems juggling work and school as their main problem as they are to blame tuition bills (54 percent to 31 percent).

And those who do drop out may not fully realize the impact that failing to get a degree will have on their future. As a group they are less likely to "strongly agree" that their parents always instilled in them the importance of college, that people who have a college degree make more money and that they would still go to college if they knew they could get a good job without a degree.

So what do these young people say would help? Making college more convenient to those on busy schedules, such as offering evening and weekend classes, and helping part-time students get financial aid. Find out more about the report, prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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