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Guest Opinion: Don't Drop Out of College or A Meaningful Training Program


Lawrence J. Danks

Professor/Camden County College


 It is a continuing problem for many community colleges that students don't finish to get their Associate degrees and that graduation rates remain very low. Many colleges have retention programs to try to stem the tide. This naturally can contribute to problems in maintaining overall enrollments semester to semester. Just as in sales, it is always better to retain current customers than it is to continuously have to prospect for new ones. But what is a true problem for colleges can be a dramatic life changer for the students who leave.

I write about some of this in a later segment in this online course in "For College Students: You and Your Future", but it's so important that it needs to be expressed upfront. Far too many students start college, then drop-out. Make it a point to never make that possibly life changing, and almost surely income reducing decision, without speaking to a counselor in the Advisement Office and to your professors before you do it.

Don't Make Yourself Poor

Being poor can be an obstacle to success. Many times it happens through no fault of someone's own. Many have risen above it, including President Obama, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, George Foreman, and others. If you come from an economically disadvantaged background, know that you can rise above it too, just as they did.

What I'm talking about is not being poor, but making unwise decisions that will be likely to make you poorer by your own hand than you ever needed to be.

I would recommend that every student, and their parents, read The Working Poor by David Shipler. He conducted many interviews, and identified many circumstances, as to why people fall into poverty, including: dropping out of high school or college, unwanted pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse, and just bad or uninformed judgment.

It can also be caused by a lackadaisical attitude about college, the failure to recognize the importance of getting an education and the serious impact it can have on one's income possibilities, the penchant for facing an unending raft of financial problems, and very likely also having a whole lot less happiness and success in life than could have been possible.

A case, cited by Mr. Shipler, is a classic example of dropping out and the consequences that came with it: Mr.Shipler mentioned a mother in Ohio who said that her daughter was in college and decided to drop out. The daughter thought it was "no big deal" at the time. It was. It was huge. She had her chance, but she didn't capitalize on it. Her leaving college was the beginning of her slide into poverty. So think twice, and three times, before you drop out. It could be the beginning of a slide into poverty for you too. You may never have the opportunity again and may wind up paying the consequences for the rest of your life. 

Remember: "Everyone had one before they lost - a chance". Don't blow yours.

Shipler also pointed out what a slippery slope poverty can be. Someone drops out of school and settles for low paying jobs that go nowhere. That usually means no benefits or very poor ones. That often results in health and dental problems developing not only for that person, but for their children too. They drive old cars, often that used to be "hot", and can't afford money for tires and repairs. They have no emergency fund or savings. Every bump in the road turns into a potential catastrophe. It becomes hand to mouth, week to week, month to month, year to yearIs this the kind of a life you want for yourself? Think about it. Don't let these things potentially happen to you because you dropped out of school, without your degree or sensible training.

Not everyone is going to complete college and get a four year degree, but if not, they shouldn't just drop out of school altogether without obtaining proper training in an area with demand first. Not doing so is a veritable recipe for going nowhere and from one low paying job to another.

This does not have to happen. Camden County College serves the entire community, and its employment needs, by offering many career options that do not require a four year degree in its Ophthalmic Program, Dental Hygiene Program. Paralegal Program, Culinary Arts, Automotive Technology Program, and many other credit and non-credit programs. The College also offers many employment options through Workforce Development Programs. For example, there is demand for welders in our area. Camden County College just graduated nine welders to help meet the need. Many more will be needed in the future, as well as in other trades. Set yourself up to succeed, not to fail, being prepared for nothing.

Sometimes students feel that leaving school is no big deal "because I can always go back". Well maybe you won't be able to due to financial, family or work situations later.

Other students have difficulty growing up. They want to play, giving little thought to building a future for themselves. For students like this, there's going to be a day that comes when the dancing and partying stop and they realize that while others were building something for themselves with their education or training, that they are going nowhere. Does it take getting to that point to finally turn things around, when you may be five to ten years older, and find that it would have been far easier to have done it right in the first place and not lost all that potentially high income in the meantime?

You Are Probably Lacking Facts. That Can Cause A Perilous Decision To Be Made About Your Future

Students sometimes make life decisions based on insufficient information:

"I'm going to drop out because I can't afford next semester's tuition." (Did you talk with Financial Aid about it? Have you checked to see if you can get any grants or scholarships? Do you know about payment plans the College has? Is there a relative or friend who would pay your tuition for you or lend you the money?)

"I heard that the field I want to go into doesn't have any jobs available? (Did you talk with our College's Career Counselor in Taft Hall. He doesn't have to guess at things like this. He knows. So do the Deans in charge of those areas. But you have to do the asking. College isn't high school. No one is going to round you up for your Guidance Office" appointment.

"I can earn more money if I drop out of school and work more hours." (Is the job you are working in now what you want to be doing the rest of your life? Is your current job preparing you for a more promising and secure future? That's the way you should be thinking. Smaller sacrifices no can pay far bigger dividends in the future.)

Don't presume that you have the right answers. Ask and get the right kind of advice. Then you can make an informed decision, not a side-saddle guess.

I made a decision like this once. It cost me a lot of money, the opportunity for promotion, and the opportunity to become a tenured faculty member far sooner. I told someone experienced that I wanted to be a college teacher. He said, "You'll never go anywhere in education without a doctorate." I thought that I'd do all right without it because I was a writer and was thought of as a good teacher, so I never pursued it. My credentials for writing would have been far better with a doctorate, I probably would have been tenured at a four year school over thirty years ago, and would have qualified for a higher academic rank and a good deal more income. But I was pretty sure of myself. Just like you might be right now. Ask. Get the proper advice. Then listen to it. That will help you make a far better decision for your future.

Throwing Away The Opportunity To Distinguish Yourself

You can be a person who has a well-rounded education, who not only gets far more choices in qualifying for better employment opportunities, but also is better prepared to enjoy the better things that life can offer: being able to reasonably hold up your end in conversations and not feel uncomfortable for a lifetime , having sufficient knowledge to help educate your children and to set a strong model of accomplishment and competency for them, to have the ability to write, speak, be computer literate, appreciate art, culture, travel, history, geography, economic and financial affairs, and many other elements that make for a more well-rounded life.

We all have special talents. Education and training can help you discover and develop them, provide self-esteem, and enable you to make a positive contribution to your family, the community and the world.

How Much Money Do You Want To Make?

It's a statistical fact that, on average, those who obtain higher levels of education or desirable training make more money over their lifetime than those who don't. So should you select a career or job solely based on which one is going to pay you the most money? Probably not, because if you don't find the work satisfying, you won't be as likely to excel and may have a long time to repent in dissatisfaction. That being said, you certainly need to make enough to meet your financial needs in a reasonable way. But you also want to live the kind of life you want to live. Not get stuck doing something that you find unrewarding. The older you get, I believe you will come more to the thinking of Ralph Waldo Emerson on financial gain:

“The desire for gold is not for gold. It is for freedom and benefit. ” In other words, education and training gives you more choices. Do you just want to take what's leftover instead?

The best correlation to how much money most people make is to the level of education they have. Certainly there are exceptions that people enjoy pointing too, like Bill Gates, one of the world's wealthiest people, who never finished college. But for every Bill Gates, there are millions who caused themselves real economic harm their entire lives because they didn't obtain the education or training that they should have had.

If you are a student, listen to what other people tell you, and ask questions. Many people will tell you about the regrets they have about not getting their education or proper training. In their humility, they are holding out a life preserver for you. Be smart enough and courageous enough to grab on to it and make a real difference in the life that is ahead of you.

Statistics are always readily available showing that, on average, over a lifetime, college graduates earn more than high school graduates, holders of master's degrees earn more than holders of bachelor's degrees, doctoral degree holders earn more than master's holders, and those with professional degrees such as physicians, dentists, veterinarians, and attorneys make more than doctoral degree holders. Those with more education are also, on average, far less likely to become unemployed. So before you decide to stop going to school, just look at this chart again and ask yourself how much money you want to cost yourself - potentially for life.

These are statistics from a recent year, reported by CNN financial expert Christine Romans: 

Education and Percent of Unemployment               Median Weekly Earnings

Doctoral Degree                     1.9%                                                    1550

Professional Degree               2.4%                                                    1610

Master's Degree                      4.0%                                                     1272

Bachelor's Degree                  5.4%                                                     1038

Associate's Degree                 7.0%                                                      767

Some College, No Degree      9.2%                                                      712

High School Diploma            10.3%                                                      626

Less Than High School         14.9%                                                     444

CBS News reported that in March 2012 that the unemployment rate for college graduates was just 4.1%, when it was far higher then for non-college graduates. The bottom line: get your four year degree and you'll not only be more likely to be employed, but if you become unemployed, you will be more likely to find another job sooner.

It might appear that the median earnings difference between having an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree isn't that much, but over a ten year period, based on the chart above, and discounting any salary increases, a bachelor's degree holder would earn $539,760 compared to an associate degree holder who would make $398,840, a difference of almost $141,000. Similarly, a master's degree holder would earn $661,440 during the same period, a difference of $121,680 over a bachelor's degree holder.

These are obviously serious considerations for anyone thinking about dropping out of college or not getting meaningful training. Stop and think. It's your future we're talking about. You don't have to go it alone. Camden County College is here to help you.

Don’t quite know how to get started? Visit the Camden County College’s Advisement Center in Taft Hall. They can help you. Like The American Express Card: Don't leave home (Camden County College) without them!

To register for Professor Danks’ online Management, Legal Environment/LawI or Business Law II courses throughout the year, check the Camden County College website for course offerings: Register early through the Registrar’s Office or WebAdvisor. Some courses fill early.


CNBNews Note: The author is an assistant professor of business at Camden County College, Blackwood, NJ and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Gloucester Catholic High School alumnus Class of '63