Opinion: Think College Is Expensive? Wait Until It’s Free

But doesn’t a college education help lift the prospects of poor students who attend? Sometimes, said Mr. Vedder, but you have to graduate first. “Forty percent of our kids who go to college don’t graduate. We have a tremendous dropout rate, much bigger than the high-school dropout rate. These kids are saddled with a certain amount of debt and their earnings prospects are barely equal to that of a high-school grad.”

Though schools ought to be more discriminating about whom they admit, student financial-assistance programs push them to admit students who are not prepared to succeed. In 1970, about 12% of recent college grads came from the bottom 25% of the income distribution. Today, it’s about 10%. “We’ve had a decline in poor people graduating from college. More poor people are attending, but fewer are graduating. We have not really improved making college a vehicle for achieving the American dream.”

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