State higher-education officials are attempting to learn why roughly half of Utah college students don't complete their degrees. Some of the working theories are that students have inadequate college advising, that they can't get the classes they need or personal circumstances force them to quit school.
Whatever the reason, the state needs to get to the bottom of this unfortunate trend, which can have lifelong consequences for students and could conceivably harm the state's economic development prospects. Utah, after all, has long boasted of its young, well-educated work force.
Colleges and universities can do more and do things differently to ensure that students can take the classes they need to complete their degrees. That means offering more online classes, when appropriate, and more sections of classes in high demand. The Utah Legislature must do its part by funding more student advisers and more faculty positions to better address bottlenecks in required classes or prerequisites for more select programs such as nursing or engineering.
The Board of Regents and higher-education officials should also review the state's higher-education system's overall mission. Is the state well-served when only half the students who enter college each fall graduate? Are all students college material or do they attend because their families, their high schools and society at large expect them to? Are Utah high school graduates adequately prepared for college-level learning? Would the state's work force be better served by expanding applied technology training opportunities?
Obviously, the state should place a premium on ensuring as many students as possible complete their college degrees. According to the U.S. Census, college graduates earn about $1 million more over the course of their lifetimes than high school graduates. The Institute for Higher Education Policy says college graduates enjoy "higher levels of savings, increased personal/professional mobility, improved quality of life for their offspring, better consumer decision-making and more hobbies and leisure activities."
As much energy as the state's higher-education system invests in addressing these false starts, students, too, must assess their educational goals, do all they can to stick with the program and complete their degrees.