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In the weak economy, people who graduate from name-brand colleges are struggling to repay the heavy debt they often rack up getting through school. But college debt is an even bigger problem for the growing numbers of borrowers who drop out without degrees.
A study published earlier this year by Education Sector, a research group based in Washington, shows that the borrowers who drop out are more than four times more likely than those who graduate to default on their college loans because they are more likely to be unemployed and earn less when they get a job. The study, based on Department of Education data, compares student borrowers who entered college in 1995 with those who entered in 2003 to see how each group fared six years later. Students who were not enrolled and did not earn degrees after six years were classified as dropouts.
The study found that the percentage of students who borrowed for college increased from 47 percent in the first group to 53 percent in second. At the same time, the proportion of borrowers who dropped out rose to nearly 30 percent for the 2003 enrollees, compared with 23 percent for the 1995 enrollees.
The dropout rates rose across all kinds of colleges. But the most striking increases were found in for-profit four-year institutions, where a staggering 54 percent of those who had borrowed to pursue a bachelor’s degree had dropped out.
The study showed that 16.8 percent of dropouts defaulted on their loans compared with 3.7 percent of those who graduated. Dropouts from for-profit colleges also had higher unemployment rates, which may be a result of for-profits recruiting low-income students who are often poorly qualified for college but eligible for federal financial aid...