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Published: Jun 27, 2024 4 min read
A hand holding a scale with money on one side and a college graduate on the other side.
Money; Getty Images

College students are so concerned about affording their education that they’re considering dropping out in droves.

About 60% of current students said they have considered calling it quits on their degree due to financial stress, according to a survey released Wednesday by Ellucian, a higher education tech company. What's more, the firm found that many of them — 19% — actually did drop out, citing financial uncertainty as the leading cause.

“It's clear that academic success is directly linked to student financial success,” Ellucian CEO Laura Ipsen said in a statement.

The survey was conducted in February and March and included responses from 1,500 U.S. college students.

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College... at what cost?

With so many students struggling to pay for college, the financial stress is taking a major toll on students’ mental health and academic performance.

Of the students having trouble affording their studies, nearly 80% in the Ellucian poll reported that the strain is affecting them mentally, and 61% said their grades slipped result.

The financial burden of a degree, both in and after college, is leading many Americans to question whether college is worth it these days. For instance, a recent Pew Research Center study found that only 22% of Americans believe that college is worth it if the person has to take out student loans (which the vast majority of students do). An even bigger share, 29%, said college isn’t worth it even if student loans aren’t required.

The shift of uncertainty in the value of a degree comes amid rising earnings for high-school grads, dwindling job security for college grads and, of course, the growing costs of college.

While the price tag for a degree has slowed its upward march since the pandemic, college expenses overall have skyrocketed over the past 20 years. According to a Money analysis of U.S. Education Department data, the inflation-adjusted cost of a bachelor’s degree — including tuition, fees, room and board and assuming a four-year completion — has increased by 30% since the early 2000s, to over $123,500.

The wallet-draining effects of today’s historically high levels of inflation could also be fueling the loss of faith in higher education. In many cases, students are now faced with financial ultimatums like paying for college or the necessities of everyday life: In the Ellucian survey, 57% reported having to choose between college expenses and basic needs like food and clothing.

That said, college grads continue to earn a notable premium over their counterparts who hold only a high school diploma.

According to data from the New York Federal Reserve, typical wages for young workers with high school educations are $36,000.

For recent college grads? $60,000.

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