April 25, 2022

8 Reasons Why Students Drop Out Of College

"The most expensive degree is the one you do not complete."
-Arne Duncan

Can you imagine your child getting to college, investing all that time and money for a few semesters, and then dropping out? A third of those who enter college will drop out. A third will finish in four years, and a third will finish in 6 years. 

Students do not leave college “just because.” So, today I wanted to talk about the top reasons why students drop out and what you can do to help your child succeed.

THE TOP REASONS FOR DROPPING OUT: 

1. FINANCIAL PROBLEMS

According to Collegeview.com, some students “underestimate college costs and realize too late that they lack the funds to cover it all. Others decide they would rather be making money working full time than pursuing a costly degree.”

Our school system teaches that the next step is university. Other options are rarely discussed and are sometimes even stigmatized. Yet little is done to convey the realities of the cost of college.

During my time working with high schools, I noticed that most teens thought they could simply get some scholarships to cover costs, and if they didn’t get a scholarship they would just get a loan. Yes, most students thought “a scholarship” meant a full ride. They didn’t realize that most students who do earn a scholarship will receive approximately $2,000-$12,000, and most of the time those are one-time scholarships, not per year. Nor do they realize the full implications of taking a student loan.

2. POOR ADJUSTMENT TO THE SECONDARY SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT

I have heard some call this poor secondary school preparation. I have heard of, and indeed witnessed myself, higher ed institutions pointing fingers at high schools for sending students unprepared. However, while this may be the case in some circumstances, we need to also remember that the learning environment of a university is very different than the learning environment of high school. Just because a student does well in high school doesn’t necessarily mean they will do well in college, and vice versa.

3. THE STUDENT IS NOT SURE ABOUT THEIR MAJOR

Either the major failed to meet the student’s expectations, or the major wasn’t the student’s first choice. Students being unsatisfied or unsure of their choice for a major often leads to changing majors one or more times.

As changing majors lead to lengthening the time in school, this adds to the cost of college. If students are unable to lengthen their time in college due to cost, they may not have any other choice but to drop out.

4. CONFLICT WITH WORK AND FAMILY COMMITMENTS

This is often the top dropout reason for older or economically disadvantaged students.

A study by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that “Many students who drop out of college have to work while enrolled in college. They often find it very difficult to support themselves and their families and go to college at the same time. Many have dependent children and enroll part-time. Many lack adequate support from parents and student aid.”

5. FAILING AND REPEATING FOUNDATION COURSES

If a student fails a course - for any reason, be it mastery of the material or balancing course loads - they have to take the course again. This adds to the time and cost of their degree. But it can impact them in other ways, as well: they feel that they are not up to the job ahead. They struggle with paying up for an extra year of school. They have strong feelings about their peers advancing ahead of them. They have a sense of hopelessness. They may feel that while they like the major, the major is not suited for them.

6. LACK OF QUALITY TIME WITH TEACHERS AND ADVISORS

The high student-to-teacher ratios in many college classes provide a less nurturing, personalized learning experience. For some students, the independent learning style works just fine. For others, it demotivates students and has been stated in studies as a reason for dropping out. Again, this is a very different learning environment than the high school which is suited for some but not for others. 

7. DE-MOTIVATING ENVIRONMENT

A study by GradNation.org saw a trend in the classroom environment playing a role in dropout reasons, including: “No one cared if I attended.” “School environment." “Teacher and school problems." This was due to either the student-teacher ratio or sometimes due to distance learning. While distance learning and teacher-student ratio are two different reasons, they both tie in with the learning environment and how it is suited to certain learning styles but not all. 

8. LACK OF STUDENT SUPPORT

Every student comes to the college from different backgrounds, with different challenges, different learning styles, and different expectations. One thing is the same across the board, however; they are facing a big transition. Too many students don’t find the support they need to succeed. 

THERE ARE A FEW THINGS YOU CAN PROVIDE TO HELP YOUR TEEN SUCCEED. 

  1. Engage in true career exploration. Help them find occupations matched to them based on their: personality, skills, interests, values, lifestyle expectations, and financial needs. 
  2. Find the right kind of education for that occupation, whatever it may be. Finding the right kind of education will include the types of qualifications that are needed for their occupation, as well as considering all of the various institutions that can provide these qualifications. Go ahead and calculate your ROI. Is the cost of the education commensurate with the average salary for the occupation? 
  3. Create a solid game plan that leads to their most ideal circumstance. Having a game plan that they are excited about will help them to stay on track. This can also help them to find internal motivation rather than relying on external motivation. When they have a direction to go in that leads to something they are excited about, it’s easier to get through the smaller day-to-day tasks. 
  4. Find a mentor for your teen. Having an additional person that they can rely on to give added support during this transition will only benefit them. 

If you feel that your teen would benefit from a structured program guided by a mentor, or if you would like to learn more about how I implement this strategy with my clients Feel free to contact me directly.

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WRITTEN BY EMMA B. PEREZ

CAREER COACH FOR TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS
Founder of Be On Purpose, LLC, Emma is a mentor who specializes in helping teens and young adults craft who they want to be and how they will impact the world.

As the author of "What's the Point of School: Ed Transformation, A Matter of Life and Death" Emma is pushing the education transformation movement forward. Her work seeks to redesign our school system from its industrial structure to one that serves our students by giving them the tools they need to thrive in all areas of their lives, internal and external. 
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