As high school seniors put the finishing touches on their college applications and start gearing up for the financial aid application process, few are likely thinking about the prospect of leaving college before they finish a degree program. Yet many students will be faced with the prospect of taking time off from school or dropping out entirely. A growing body of research is addressing the question of why students leave college, and a new report has proposed some surprising answers. If you're planning to attend college or currently struggling to stay in college, it's definitely worth a read.
The survey was conducted by the research group Public Agenda, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. More than 600 adults between the ages of 22 and 30, some who have finished college and some who haven't, were surveyed about the challenges they faced in attending college. The report addresses four myths about college dropouts: that most students go to school full-time and only leave because they're bored or unwilling to work, that most students receive adequate financial support, that most students go through a "meticulous process" of choosing their college, and that students who don't graduate make their decision after knowing and weighing the pros and cons of attending or leaving school.
The realities that correspond to the first two myths are especially striking. According to the survey, most students who drop out do so because they cannot balance work and college and can't afford to stop working, and many of those students are going it alone financially, without help from relatives or financial aid.
A full 54 percent of respondents listed "I need to go to work and make money" as a major reason they left school, with 31 percent saying they couldn't afford tuition and fees. By contrast, only 21 percent left primarily because they needed a break, and only 10 percent found the classes too difficult. Students who didn't graduate had a harder time managing costs besides tuition and fees (36% agreed strongly) and balancing work and school (35% agreed strongly) than students who managed to graduate (23% and 26%, respectively). Most students who left school planned to return, but feared that work and family obligations would keep them from enrolling anytime soon.
Students who ultimately dropped out were less likely than students who graduated to have any kind of financial support, including student loans. The majority of those who did not graduate said they could not rely on help from parents or relatives (58%), a scholarship or other financial aid (69%), or a student loan (69%) to help pay for school. By contrast, 66% of those who did graduate had family financial support, 57% had scholarships or financial aid, and 49% had some sort of loan.
This survey is part of a growing body of research on the relationship between work and college success. The results suggest that students who are able to pay all their bills while in school, work less than 20 hours a week, and focus their attention on classes are more likely to do well in school and more likely to graduate. This is one of many reasons to think carefully about paying for school and investigate scholarship options early.