The College Dropout Boom
The Four Questions
What is the problem?
Is it a
What are the causes of the problem?
Is there a way to alleviate the problem?
ne of the biggest decisions Andy Blevins has
ever made, and one of the few he now regrets,
never seemed like much of a decision at all. It just
felt like the natural thing to do.
In the summer of 1995, he was moving boxes
of soup cans, paper towels, and dog food across the
floor of a supermarket warehouse, one of the big-
gest buildings in the area of southwest Virginia
surrounding the town of Chilhowie. The heat
was brutal. The job had sounded impossible
when he arrived fresh off his first year of college,
looking to make some summer money, still a
skinny teenager with sandy blond hair and a nar-
row, freckled face.
But hard work done well was something he
understood, even if he was the first college boy
in his family. Soon he was making bonuses on
top of his $6.75 an hour, more money than either
of his parents made. His girlfriend was around,
and so were his hometown buddies. Andy acted
more outgoing with them, more relaxed. People
in Chilhowie noticed that.
It was just about the perfect summer. So the
thought crossed his mind: maybe it did not have
to end. Maybe he would take a break from college
and keep working. He had been getting Cs and Ds,
and college never felt like home, anyway.
enjoyed working hard, getting the job done,
getting a paycheck," Blevins recalled.
just knew I
didn't want to quit."
So he quit college instead, and with that, Andy
Blevins joined one of the largest and fastest-
growing groups of young adults in America. He
became a college dropout, though nongraduate
may be the more precise term.
Many people like him plan to return to get
their degrees, even if few actually do. Almost
one in three Americans in their mid-twenties
now fall into this group, up from one in five in
the late 1960s, when the Census Bureau began
keeping such data. Most come from poor and
The phenomenon has been largely over-
looked in the glare of positive news about the
country's gains in education. Going to college
has become the norm throughout most of
the United States, even in many places where col-
lege was once considered an exotic destination—
places like Chilhowie, an Appalachian hamlet with
SOURCE: From David Leonardt, "The College Dropout Boom," in
The New York Times,
pp. 87-104. Copyright © 2005 by the New York Times Co. Reprinted by permission.