A new report from the American Institute for Research (AIR) highlights the alarming amount of state and federal funds that are spent on students that dropout of college after their first year.  The report, entitled “Finishing the First Lap: The Cost of First-Year Student Attrition in America’s Four-Year Colleges and Universities”, shows that first-year-only students cost the U.S. over $9 billion during the five-year study (2003-08).  This figure includes $6.2 billion in state expenditures for colleges and universities, along with $1.4 billion (state) and $1.5 billion (federal) in grants for students that never reach their sophomore year.The report also includes data for each state and the District of Columbia.  According to the AIR study, over $88 million state and federal dollars have been spent over the past five years on first-year-only students in Mississippi.  This amount includes over $70 million state dollars.  During the five years of this study, Mississippi spent $66.7 million in state appropriations to 4-year colleges and universities, along with $4.1 million in grants, for students that never made it to their sophomore year.  The additional $18.8 million came in the form of federal grants. Keep in mind that these costs only cover students that drop after after the first year, without mentioning the additional cost of students that drop out later.

There are several reasons why so many high school graduates drop out of college after their first year.  Personal situations such as family problems, illness, or financial troubles do happen.  However, a bigger driver of dropouts is that our current K-12 education system has produced far too many high school graduates who are unprepared for success in college. Mississippi high school students are not required to take the number advanced math and  science classes needed for college success.  Several districts throughout the state, particularly small districts, cannot (or do not) even provide these classes.  Yet in recent weeks, the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Board decided not to require more advanced classes or raise the minimum number of credit hours.  Granted, ensuring that every high school in the state offers physics and other classes would produce some challenges.  But as the AIR study shows, keeping sub-par standards in place for even one more year will ultimately cost our state millions of additional dollars, as unprepared college freshmen are forced to either take remedial classes or drop out altogether.

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