Why Students Drop Out

Success vs Failure signpostAccording to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. has the highest college dropout rate of any industrialized country.1 Why? Obviously there are a number of reasons as varied as there are students, but the top 5 include:


Unclear Direction. Many students have little or no clear direction forward. They begin college without a specific major and/or without a clear set of goals in mind. They take several introductory courses in several different majors hoping to find that one spark that screams, “this is it!” Some spend so much time seeking, they (or their parents) run out of patience or money before actually graduating.


In addition, some students see little concrete evidence of a clear connection between their chosen major and opportunities in the job market.1 For example, degrees in Business or Liberal Arts can lead to such broad arenas that clear pathways forward are nearly non-existent. You need goals, and a plan to meet them, to find your best future direction.


Financial Pressure. Some students and families are unprepared for the “hidden” costs of a college education and find themselves lacking the necessary funds. While state and federal governments rail against tuition increases, colleges often find it necessary to increase fees to cover the loss of their own funding. Add to that the $700-1100 spent on books and supplies annually, travel, etc and costs over and above tuition begin to soar. When looking at colleges and college majors it is important to consider ALL costs (see college selection criteria here).


Freedom vs Real Life. Freedom can be a blessing and a curse. Of course it’s great to be able to eat and sleep what and when you want, but real life requires some form of structure. Having spent over 12 years on a University Judicial/Conduct Board, I can assure you perfectly great students can find themselves on academic probation, or other disciplinary action, very quickly for simple stupid actions. And missing an exam because you didn’t hear the alarm, or have a hangover, is no excuse. Don’t let freedom “go to your head.”


Lost in Plain Sight. If you wish to be known as more than a name or number on a grade sheet, it will be your responsibility to ensure that happens. College professors are well known for not knowing their students. If you desire a college experience that is more personable, it will be up to you to make the effort to get to know your professors and fellow students. Speaking up, sharing ideas, and talking to instructors during office hours are great ways to set you apart from the crowd.


Life Happens. Illness, family struggles, romances/relationships beginning and ending, and professional opportunities – all can arise in life to create academic struggles. In certain cases these outside “forces” can seem too big to ignore. But before you decide to dropout, talk it over with a trusted professor, adviser, or counselor. In many instances they can help you determine solutions for taking small amounts of time off, without adversely affecting your academic success.


Some may say I have neglected to mention one of the greatest factors to determine student dropouts – that is, under-preparation. I have not forgotten. It is simply too involved to cover in a short paragraph, and is on the slate for next week.


What would you add to the list?


1Harvard Graduate School of Education

Photo: Stockmonkeys.com

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