In 2019, a study from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center estimated that only 58% of students enrolled nationwide finished college within six years. There are a variety of common reasons college students decide to drop out before they finish their degree. Knowing these common paths is the first step in launching successful initiatives to prevent them. Because when students finish their degree, they leave with more knowledge, a solid future and the belief that they can accomplish hard things. Here are some of the reasons why college students drop out.
A big factor in finishing out a degree is the financial burden a degree places on students and families. Maybe they had unforeseen expenses that changed their financial situation, or the student lost their scholarship. Oftentimes, students drop out to start working so they can support themselves and/or their families.
Universities that offer adequate scholarships often see less dropout for financial reasons. Another helpful initiative is providing work study programs and on-campus jobs. Students can work to support their cost of living even if they don’t have transportation to get to work. Emergency grants and first-generation student mentoring are also cited as initiatives to help this issue.
Sometimes, the workload in college can become too overwhelming. Academic reasons are an important factor in why college students drop out. And when they drop out, nationwide data suggests they have less than a 30% chance of returning to finish their degree.
Free tutoring programs like writing centers and language/math centers are resources that can help struggling students. But it should start in the classes. Whether the lecture size is two or 200 students, a student should never feel too anonymous to ask for help, or that their professor isn’t welcoming it. Office hours and email communication with professors can help. Communicating with professors early and often can also allow accommodations for students whose grades are suffering due to mental health or other concerns. One conversation can mean the difference between passing and failing, and that can be the tipping point to stay or to drop out.
Another reason students drop out or transfer is that they simply don’t feel they fit in at that school. Statistically, more students drop out their first year than in consecutive years. A big reason for this is social integration. If a student doesn’t make connections, loneliness becomes a debilitating issue that can lead to dropping out. When students make friends, join clubs, and find a reason to love the school, they want to stay and finish the degree. And vice versa.
That’s why first-year experience initiatives have an incredible ROI for higher ed. Events for first-year students can facilitate relationship building and introduce students to those they might not normally meet. Hold these consistently, and students will start to feel like the campus is a little smaller and a little more like home. Reach out to students and ask for event ideas that they would actually want to attend. This increases the chances events will be well received by students. This way, first-year students create a sense of belonging that fuel their desire to finish out their four years. And social health is a big reason why college students drop out, so avoiding these problems preserves student retention, satisfaction and success.