Never mind the gap

A study out of Canada suggests that students who put off going to college are not at a disadvantage in the job market later, as long as they complete their degrees once they start:

The researchers sought to find out if delaying post-secondary education had any effect on the labour market experiences of Canadian youth. What they discovered was that finishing a degree or diploma was more important than when it was started. […]

The highest employment rates were found for youth who had followed the college route – either with a gap or without-and for youth who delayed university but finished a degree. Both rates were around 85 per cent. The employment rate for university graduates in the cohort who started their degree immediately was just below 80 per cent.

One possible explanation for the difference between the university graduates is that gappers may have had more opportunity to work between high school and post-secondary education and, therefore, had more work experience on their resumes.

Students who started college but dropped out — regardless of how long after high school they started — were at or below the level of high school dropouts in terms of earnings.

I suspect that there would be no difference in the results if American students were surveyed. And I suspect too that the retention rate among “gappers” might be higher than among “non-gappers”. Students who take time off to work, go into the military, etc. before entering college tend, in my experience, to have a better idea of what they want out of life and more maturity to discipline themselves to get it.


Filed under Education, Higher ed, Student culture

8 responses to “Never mind the gap

  1. CdnMathTeacher

    Any ideas why university/college dropouts have as low or lower earnings as high school dropouts?

  2. The article on the study doesn’t say. There are almost too many variables to speculate. Perhaps both the dropping out and the low wage earnings are rooted in a common lack of purpose or personal discipline. But it could also be that a person drops out of college to get married and raise a family and therefore doesn’t have any “earnings”; it could be that the study only tracks the dropouts during the first year or so after they drop out, and later in life those dropouts end up making a good living at something.

  3. Amen! I wish our campus had an office where potential students could go to learn about doing a structured “gap year” (Americorp, Internships, public service, etc.). Of course, given the recent pushes for enrollment increases (at least in Michigan), we wouldn’t ever do anything to discourage students for signing up for college, but I’m not sure that’s in the best interest of the student.

  4. Thanks for posting about this – many teachers push, push, push kids into college…..students who have no real direction and end up getting discouraged. I wish research like this was more widely published.

  5. @Maria: I agree with you, and I can’t figure out why colleges don’t help students do a gap year. It’s analogous to doing a study abroad — the students are still enrolled in the college, and they are getting valuable educational experiences; and from a bottom-line standpoint it works well too because the students are not there on campus and therefore you can enroll another student to fill her/his physical spot.

    I once suggested that colleges should offer scholarships to offset the costs of incoming freshmen to take a gap year before matriculating at the college, in exchange for a signed contract that the student will not transfer or drop out. (But I can’t find the blog posting!)

  6. Robert,

    I was in and out of college, in one job, but at the low end of my office, sometimes full-time, sometimes part-time… and then I took a year (really 15 months). I was in my late 20’s. After that, I quickly went back to school, got a full time job to pay the bills, finished school and began to teach. Night and day. I like to think that instead of doing things halfway earlier that I would have better served myself with a gap year… Oh well.

  7. virusdoc

    Robert (and readers): are you aware of similar studies that examine repercussions for recent college grads who take a year off before going to graduate or professional schools? I just had a student in my office who thinks she wants to go to grad school, but isn’t sure. I advised her to take such a gap year, since grad school is hard and miserable even if you KNOW you want to do it, and much worse if you don’t. Did I give good advice?

  8. It’s not always best to take a gap year between college and grad school — it depends on the discipline, and it depends on how sure you are. I think probably in your case, doc, you gave good advice. If a person isn’t sure they want to do grad school, then actually doing grad school is not the logical next step. Finding out more about grad school is, and if a person can’t or doesn’t do that while in college (through REU programs, departmental info events, etc.) then a gap year could be good.

    I say it depends on the discipline, because I know in math, the half-life of content knowledge is extremely short, and unless a person plans to take a year off before grad school to spend poring through real analysis and abstract algebra texts (which isn’t a bad idea) then they should plan on forgetting a lot of what they learned in college, which isn’t a good thing.

    To answer your first question, I have no knowledge of any systematic study about this. But anecdotally I know a lot of my students who go on to grad school (mainly MS programs and not PhD) do take a gap year and appreciate having done so in the end.