A third of the best U.S. high school students don't finish college

A third of the top-scoring U.S. high school students don't earn a college degree, although almost all of enroll in college, according to new research from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce (Georgetown CEW).

Researchers at Georgetown CEW define top-scoring students as those who score over 1,000 on the SAT. More than two-thirds of these students who did not graduate are White, while 13% are Latino and 8% are Black. The top-scorers with no degree are evenly distributed between the top half and bottom half of the income distribution.

Colleges and universities lose up to five million of these top-scoring students each decade, which is nearly half of the estimated 11 million college-educated adults needed to close the workforce gap. But spending an average of $5,000 per student per year could push a significant number of these top-scored across the college finish line, finds Georgetown CEW. Targeted interventions could include academic and financial aid counseling, work exposure, and revamped credit transfers.

Also see: How to guarantee transfer students will reject you

The stakes of college completion are high for both students and the nation. Students who don't obtain a degree typically earn $1 million less over their career. And this "talent drain.... [hurts the] overall competitiveness of the American workforce," says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown CEW.

If even top-scoring students are struggling to complete their degree, higher ed leaders should take a closer look at the nonacademic reasons students leave, Jeremy House writes for Education Dive.

The biggest culprit for stopping out is the struggle to balance college with external commitments, according to research from EAB's Navigate. A 2009 Public Agenda study found that the majority of adults who left school attributed their decision to problems with juggling work and school, nearly twice as much as the next most common issue, tuition affordability.

Read more: 4 strategies to support (and reengage) stop outs

The recent Community College Survey of Student Engagement, including results from 297 colleges, reinforces the idea that colleges could do better in providing the life skills and support that would enable students to better manage non-academic priorities, such as mental health care, financial counseling, and child care programs.

College readiness is about more than test scores, says Erin Gresham, Northern Arizona University's vice president of enrollment management and student affairs. The university prepares students for college with outreach programs that help students learn soft skills such as time management (Georgetown CEW release, 1/19; House, Education Dive, 1/22).

Also see: Create a summer bridge program that actually works

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