In the past 20 years, more than 31 million students have enrolled in college, only to leave without a degree or certificate, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). And a third of these students dropped out of school before the start of their sophomore year.
These statistics are troubling for several reasons. According to a Pew Research study, “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” there are significant disparities – in terms of wages, unemployment rates, and poverty rates – among millennials ages 25-32 who complete college and those who do not:
||Median Annual Earnings
||Percent Living in Poverty
|Bachelor’s degree or more
|Two-year degree/some college
|High school graduate
In addition, a study by Boston-based analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies recently revealed a new employer trend toward “upcredentialing” – requiring a bachelor’s degree for jobs that formerly needed only a high school diploma or an associate degree – which further limits career options for those without a bachelor’s degree.
GoodCall took a look at why so many students – and, in particular – so many freshmen – tend to drop out:
Stress, expectations, and helicopter parenting
The stress, adjustment, and expectations of freshmen year make young adults especially prone to dropping out, according to Esther Boykin, CEO and Managing Partner of Group Therapy Associates in the District of Columbia metro area. “In this modern age of parenting, many students have little experience managing their own lives,” says Boykin. “They often leave high school with fewer real world skills and for some, less resiliency when it comes to the emotional and social challenges of adulthood.”
She also notes that learning to navigate stress, address health issues, and establish supportive relationships can be difficult for many students. “Add to that the fact that young adulthood is also a time in which mental health and relationship issues arise. Nearly 80% of college students report frequent stress and 1 in 3 experience a depressive episode.”
If that’s not enough to deal with, Boykin says that as many as 1 in 3 freshmen students will experience sexual assault or some other form of social violence.
And while helicopter parenting may no longer be the trend, the effects linger. She explains, “When parents – and other adults – do not allow children to have independence to fail and room to learn how to pick themselves back up, they end up in young adulthood floundering as they try to take care of their emotional and social needs.”
While Boykin says one of the greatest predictors of freshmen success is the availability of family support throughout the first year, the lack of balance between expecting adult behavior and giving adequate emotional, social, and financial support can create a situation that sets students on a path to failure. The result? “The students give up instead of learning how to push through the challenges ahead of them.”
Incompatibility with chosen schools
Every university or college isn’t right for every student, and sometimes, this can be the problem. Melissa Cohen, a licensed social worker and coach who works with teens and parents, and is the author of “ParentKnowledgy – A (Simple) Guide to Surviving Your Teen,” says that some students choose a school based on criteria that does not always include what is best for them. “For example, many students choose to go to a school because it has a good reputation or because a parent, other family member or friend went there and had a great time.” But, she says, students should not choose colleges based on someone else’s experience, or on the college’s ranking, sports team, or other factors that do not ensure academic or personal success.
“There are multiple factors that should be addressed in choosing a college, and they vary from student to student,” says Boykin. “They need to be engaged on all levels to be successful or happy.”
Lack of discipline and preparation
To get a student’s perspective, GoodCall spoke with Joyia Williams, who just finished her freshman year on the President’s List at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. Williams, who was the valedictorian of her high school senior class and is attending college on a full scholarship, is accustomed to being an A student, and says she has the discipline and study skills needed to stay on her current trajectory.
However, she has college friends and classmates who are not returning to school for their sophomore year. “They weren’t doing well in school. They were more focused on fun than academics, and their grades suffered,” says Williams. She explains that these students did not manage their time well. “They slept late, stayed out late, didn’t study, and their parents decided that it was too expensive to keep them in school if they were not going to maintain good grades.”
Gina DeLapa, a licensed professional counselor who spent over 10 years working as a career counselor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, has seen many students who fit this profile. “First, over the last several decades, college tuition has risen not just incrementally but exponentially, and families expect to see some sort of return on that investment.” If they don’t – for example, the student is earning poor grades – DeLapa says families question why they’re sacrificing so much for so little.
She recommends connecting students to services on campus before they get into trouble academically. “For example, how many students go talk to their professors? How many use tutoring services or take a seminar on how to sharpen their study skills?”
DeLapa also addresses another issue. “It’s much more common today for students to wear many other hats besides that of a student – for example, employee, intern, and family caregiver.” And when school, work, and family demands reach a tipping point, DeLapa says, it is understandable that academic responsibilities would be compromised or even jettisoned.
This may be a contributing factor in the success that Williams enjoys. According to the NSC, traditional students – those who start college no older than 20 years of age, are prepared for college level work, and attend school full-time – have a greater chance of completing their course of study. Unfortunately, many students don’t fit that profile, and a big challenge to the higher education system is to finding a way to meet the needs of those students.