Oberlin High School administrators don’t want the Class of 2016’s diplomas to be the last new alumni earn — but students enrolling in college will face immense challenges.
The national college graduation rate is 43 percent.
But just 30 percent of 2008 and 2009 Oberlin high graduates earned degrees, according to Katie Hayes, a college access coordinator with Oberlin College’s Bonner Center for Service and Learning. She works with the high school to increase college enrollment and graduation.
Hayes said the high dropout rate was due to the “terrible financial burden” many students face. “It’s a national problem,” Hayes told Oberlin board of education members this spring.
Statistics bear out Hayes’ assessment. A March survey by Edvisors, a group of websites that advises students on how to pay for college, reported 64 percent of college students said they ran out of money before the end of a semester at some point in their college careers.
Those who graduate often go into debt due to less access to grants and scholarships.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that college graduates this year will have a record-breaking average of of $37,172 in student debt. The nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success said 69 percent of the Class of 2014 graduated with student debt and the average debt nationally per student was nearly $29,000.
In Ohio, 67 percent of the college Class of 2014 graduated in debt and the average was $29, 353 per student.
Higher education traditionally means higher earning power. However, job prospects for this year’s high school and college graduates are similar or worse than in 2007, the start of the Great Recession, according to an April report by the Economic Policy Institute.
Unemployment for recent high school graduates was 17.9 percent compared to 15.9 percent in 2007. For recent college graduates, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent compared to 5.5 percent in 2007.
Wages, adjusted for inflation, were stagnant compared to 2000. For recent high school graduates, the average wage was $10.66 per hour — 2.5 percent lower than in 2000.
Young college graduates earn an average wage of $18.53 — just 0.7 percent higher than in 2000.
Despite the sobering statistics, college enrollment and retention are up for Oberlin students, Hayes said. She cited statistics from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit group that collects educational data.
Last year, 65 Oberlin students enrolled in college immediately after high school, about 78 percent of the Class of 2015. The annual average between 2011-15 was 57 students (68 percent).
Retention rates for last year and 2014 were unavailable, but 92 percent of college freshmen returned for their sophomore year in 2013, compared to 77 percent in 2009. The average between 2009 and 2013 was 79 percent. The national average is 66 percent, Hayes said.
Hayes credited higher enrollment and retention to better communication between administrators and students. Efforts include reunions like the “Ugly Sweater Party” in December at the Slow Train Cafe. College students are also brought in to speak to high school seniors about dealing with problems like homesickness and college professors are brought in to talk about how to succeed academically.
Hayes said some new college students are reluctant to talk if they’re having problems, but she tries to keep the lines of communication open.
Between between Aug. 1 and April 4, Hayes said she had 527 communications with 34 recent high school graduates. The communications included calls, emails, texts, and face-to-face conversations.
“We’re really working on how we can continue to support students once they’re in college,” Hayes said. “We have really tried to step it up.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.