Half of Public University Students Drop-Out. It’s Not (Just) Because of Costs

There are many reasons that students drop out of college, but education expert notes that Wayne State is doing things to improve student outcomes.

Today, Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson looks at a lesser-known problem in the world of college academia, and that is the number of students who drop out and never graduate.

David Kirp, author of “The College Dropout Scandal” and UC Berkeley Professor and New York Times Opinion Contributor, joins host Stephen Henderson to talk about this issue connects to affordability. He says students who drop out have no degree, but still acquire a great deal of student debt and an even bleaker economic outlook than they had before starting college. This is especially true for students of color. 

“Half the kids who go to public universities emerge without a degree.” – David Kirp, author

Andy Davis
Andy Davis

Kirp begins the discussion by pointing out a significant issue in public universities, which is that “half the kids who go to public universities emerge without a degree.”

He says those kids are automatically set up for a more difficult life with a harder time landing a job and facing substantial financial challenges with student loan debt and job limitations from not having a degree. But, Kirp adds that there is some good news: “We know how to dramatically move the needle. Wayne State has done brilliantly in this area.” [Editor’s Note: Wayne State University holds the operating license for 101.9 WDET.]

He also says that accountability is a real problem: “Nobody loses their job because of drop out rates.” Kirp says of those who work at universities who are failing to help their students succeed. 

As far as the reasons that people drop out of school, Kirp says there are several.

One of them is simply financial means, and the other is a lack of support systems for the students who need them. “Money matters buts it’s important to know that two colleges who admit exactly the same kind of students on paper have very, very different graduation rates and two colleges with the same graduation rates are going to have very different minority graduation rates. Minority students actually graduate at a higher rate,” explains Kirp.

Students of color “don’t feel like they are members of a community, that actually respects them.” – David Kirp, author

He says that ultimately, most students who drop out do so “because they don’t feel like they are members of a community that actually takes them seriously, that actually respects them. They think of themselves as check writing machines,” Kirp says. The lack of a supportive community is largely attributed to a shortage of college counselors. He says often there is just one counselor for 1,000 students. 

Click on the player above to hear the conversation with David Kirp about the college drop-out scandal.


  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.