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Bill Gates: US college dropout rates are ‘tragic’

Bill Gates
Axel Schmidt - Pool | Getty Images
Bill Gates

More Americans are going to college than ever before, but students face unprecedented challenges. Over 44 million Americans collectively hold more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt and only 54.8 percent of students graduate in six years. This means that millions of Americans are taking on thousands of dollars in debt without a diploma to show for it.

Even though he dropped out of college himself, Bill Gates says that college dropout rates need to be addressed. He told students, "The U.S. has the highest college dropout rate. We're number one in terms of the number of people who start college but we're like number 20 in terms of the number of people who finish college."

Gates says that while it's great that more than 2 million American students will start college this fall, high dropout rates are cause for concern. He writes on his blog, "Based on the latest college completion trends, only about half of all those students (54.8 percent) will leave college with a diploma. The rest — most of them low-income, first-generation, and minority students — will not finish a degree. They'll drop out."

"This is tragic," he says. "Not just for the students and their families, but for our nation. Without more graduates, our country will face a shortage of skilled workers and fewer low-income families will get the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty."

Gates, whose foundation has given millions towards domestic education initiatives, says that he keeps an eye out for schools who successfully educate students who are at risk of dropping out.

He writes, "I'm constantly on the lookout for colleges and universities that somehow defy these odds — places where students are more likely to graduate than not, regardless of race or income."

The tech billionaire says that Georgia State University (GSU) is one of these schools. "There is no achievement gap at GSU. African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students all graduate at rates at or above those of the student body overall," he explains. "GSU is one of the only public universities in the country to achieve this goal."

Though some schools try to keep their graduation rates high by denying at-risk students and privileging wealthy students in the admissions process, GSU has a different approach. "It didn't take the easy route by shutting out at-risk students and cherry picking the brightest applicants," says Gates. "In fact, the university accepted more 'at-risk' students — low-income, minority, and academically struggling — than ever."

According to Gates, GSU managed to improve graduation rates for all students by listening to the challenges that students face, dedicating more resources to student advising and providing micro-grants to students in need.

Allison Calhoun-Brown, associate vice president for student success at GSU tells Gates, "Students come to school with their hopes and their dreams and their families are investing heavily. We want to make sure that Georgia State is not the cause of them not finishing — that we have done everything that we can to create the kind of environment where they can be retained, where they can progress, and where they can ultimately graduate."

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