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Some College Is Better Than No College — Even If You Don’t Finish

Being a college dropout isn’t looked at favorably in today’s society, but a new study has found that even some college pays off, whether a person graduates or not. Students who attend college are more likely to find work and even earn more money than those who don’t.

In the new study published in The Journal of Higher Education, Professor Paul Attewell (The Graduate Center, CUNY) and other researchers utilized a sample of some 200,000 graduating Texas high school students to determine how they managed whether they earned a postsecondary credential or dropped out.

“While college dropouts do not fare as well as college graduates, incomplete college nevertheless functions for many as a stepping-stone into a better labor market position,” the researchers wrote.

The authors found that not finishing college doesn’t always have a detrimental impact on a person’s employment and financial outcomes. The researchers argued for a “shift away from the notion of ‘the college dropout’ as failure or wasted effort and toward an appreciation of the practical utility of ‘some college’ for many students.”

The researchers used data from the Texas Education Research Center at the University Of Texas at Austin, which includes all people who graduated from a Texas public high school in 2000. Of the 207,332 graduates, a majority attended in-state four- or two-year programs after high school. The authors noted a pattern in their findings.

“Students who attend college short of a degree are much more likely to be employed than members of the cohort who did not go to college, and, if employed, they have higher earnings on average,” the researchers write.

While those who graduated from the postsecondary programs earned the most income overall, the likelihood of employment — and income — appeared to increase for dropouts the more credits they accumulated.

The authors noted that degree attainment is ideal in the eyes of college leaders. So, colleges and universities have considered two options: Develop new ways to support students as they complete their programs or limit postsecondary access to people “less likely to complete a degree.”  The authors argued against the latter solution.

“While strongly endorsing the importance of a credential as a goal for all college students, we argue that the current emphasis on completion should not come at the expense of college access, particularly for historically marginalized student populations,” the researchers note.  

Beyond SUM

Work By

Paul Attewell (Professor, Sociology and Urban Education ) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

The Graduate Center

Bonus Content

"Even Some College Tends to Pay Off" (Inside Higher Ed)