In a sobering report, the Pew Charitable Trusts recently noted that 176,000 Philadelphians have dropped out of college. Many have little to show for their efforts but an income slightly higher than those who never went to college. Many also have an unbearable debt load.
They dropped out because they ran out of money, weren't properly prepared for college, had to take care of their families, or had a health crisis. While the reasons vary, what many have in common is that they still have a deep desire to improve themselves and could do so with a little help.
Even with uncompleted degrees, however, they do earn an average $34,900 annual income; those who have never gone to college earn $31,800, reports the Department of Education. Finishing their degrees could bump their salaries to $50,000 (with a bachelor's degree) to $64,100 (with a master's degree).
College attainment in this city has been a cause for concern for a long time, and as Pew points out, contributes to the city's lackluster economic performance. Nearly half of the city's adults never attended college, and only 34 percent of adults in the city have completed college degrees. In Boston, 53 percent have graduated; in Washington, it's 60 percent.
Helping the former college students return could be an effective route to raising Philadelphia's college graduation rates overall.
Secondary schools should toughen up pre-college programs to give students a realistic idea of whether they'll be more successful attending college or a trade school, according to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance's 2012 report to Congress.
Colleges should offer more classes in the evenings and on weekends so students can better fit school into their lives. Because non-completers tend to move around a lot, colleges could be more liberal about accepting credits from other institutions to apply to degrees.
Employers should note that student-workers can be among their most ambitious and potentially productive employees. Employers should give students reliable schedules so they can juggle their responsibilities (and maybe, a little help with tuition).
State and federal governments should establish grants for working students. They can encourage colleges to improve graduation rates by awarding some aid based on student success. Pennsylvania is one of more than 30 states that bases aid on graduation rates. The state should also encourage colleges to improve programs which carefully monitor students for very early signs of academic failure, so they can help them recover and complete degrees.
And, every high school and college in the region should make sure students know about Graduate!Philadelphia or similar programs to help returning students. The non-profit helps students remove impediments, one of the biggest of which is dealing with an unpaid student loan. Students can't get transcripts to return to college without having a clean bill of health from their lenders. Many don't know that they can arrange small payments to get in the clear, according to Executive Director Barbara Mattleman.
The best argument for investing in our human capital is that we all reap the rewards of a better educated, more prosperous city.