The biggest hindrance to completing college isn't financial preparedness, but academic preparedness. Half of the students in community colleges need high-school-level courses when they enroll.
Ever have one of those nightmares where you're back in school and you forget to take the final exam? It's a reality for 37 million Americans who have some college experience but no degree. Although record numbers of high school graduates have enrolled in college over the past few years, their odds of finishing remain low. Only 56 percent of full-time students complete four-year bachelor's degrees within six years. At community colleges, where half of all freshmen enroll, the track record is even worse: Just three of 10 full-time students earn their two-year associate's degrees within three years.
Getting diplomas in the hands of more people would be a huge boost for the U.S. economy. During the past three decades, the United States has slipped from first among nations to 10th in the percentage of people holding a college degree, even as the job market has eroded for Americans without one. Increasingly, this failure has constrained household incomes and harmed the nation's economic growth and competitiveness.
Within a decade, more than 60 percent of all new U.S. jobs are expected to require a college education. Raising the number of people with a bachelor's degree by 1 percentage point in the 51 most populous metropolitan areas would add $143 billion to the nation's annual income, according to CEOs for Cities, a Chicago-based nonprofit.