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Why Students Drop Out of College

New MSU Study Cites Key Risk Factors

February 17, 2011

Why Students Drop Out of College

by Alexis Mattera

It may seem counterintuitive to work hard throughout high school, score well on your standardized tests, get accepted to your first-choice college and wrangle enough financial aid to pay for your education only to drop out before graduation but it does happen. What causes this academic 180? That’s what researchers at Michigan State University revealed in a new study.

The team, led by MSU assistant professor of psychology Tim Pleskac, used a mathematical model to analyze surveys from 1,158 freshmen at 10 U.S. colleges and universities. The surveys listed 21 "critical events" and students were asked whether any of the events happened to them in the previous semester; later, the students surveyed were asked whether or not they planned to drop out. Among the top risk factors reported were depression, loss of financial aid, tuition increases, unexpected poor marks and roommate issues. Other "critical events" like family deaths, failure to get into a specific program of study, significant bodily injury and addiction, however, were less likely to impact a student’s decision to leave school. "Prior to this work, little was known about what factors in a student’s everyday life prompt them to think about withdrawing from college," Pleskac said. "We are now better suited to think about what students we should target in terms of counseling or other assistance to help them work through these issues."

Would any of the factors listed above effect your choice to drop out of college? If they did, do you think you would eventually return to obtain your degree?


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Schools That Set the High Score for Gaming

by Alexis Mattera

Have you ever gotten yelled at by your parents for playing video games when you should have been doing your homework? Gotten your Xbox unplugged just before breaking your kill record in "Call of Duty" because dinner was on the table? Had your internet – and, in turn, "World of Warcraft" – privileges revoked for not keeping up with your chores? If so, take solace in the fact that those punishments will never occur if you attend college at one of the following schools. In fact, they would say the more gaming the better: According to the Princeton Review and GamePro Media, they are the top colleges for video game design!

  1. University of Southern California
  2. University of Utah
  3. DigiPen Institute of Technology
  4. The Art Institute of Vancouver
  5. Michigan State University
  6. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  7. Drexel University
  8. Champlain College
  9. Rochester Institute of Technology
  10. Becker College

The list was compiled from the survey results of administrators at 150 colleges and universities offering video game design courses and degrees. Though they did not make the top 10, Georgia Institute of Technology, North Carolina State, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institution, Savannah College of Art and Design and Shawnee State University were given honorable mentions. Everyone has to be Luigi sometimes...better luck next year!


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Unusual (but Useful!) College Majors

by Alexis Mattera

You know the most popular college majors and the majors with the highest earning potential. You are even aware of some of the more unusual classes students can take while attending college...but can unique translate into useful in the real world?

As it turns out, some of the most out-there-sounding majors are producing satisfied graduates making real contributions to their fields of choice after graduation. What are these majors and where can interested students find them? Here’s an abridged guide:

  • Packaging. University of Wisconsin-Stout packaging majors don’t think outside the box. They think about the box, specifically how to create “economically, aesthetically, environmentally and technically sound” packaging. And they’ve got it in the bag: A 2009 survey showed 95 percent of packaging graduates were employed by major companies like Frito-Lay and FedEx, no less!
  • Viticulture and enology. Graduates from Cornell’s program could soon be giving Dionysus a run for his money. Though it only recently became an official major, coordinator Kari Richards said the majority of graduates are involved in the industry. "Some have continued enology-related studies in graduate school, others travel worldwide to gain experience in harvest and crush, [and a] few will or have returned to the home winery/vineyard," she said.
  • Puppetry. UConn’s not just known for basketball but for being one of only two schools in the U.S. offering undergraduate degrees in puppetry arts...and the only one offering a graduate program in the field. It’s selective – enrollment is limited to 22 students – but graduates have gone on to work and perform in theatres, television shows and films. Guess being green isn’t so difficult after all!

The complete list of unusual college majors can be found here. Wondering if the school of your dreams offers them? Check out our college search!


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Louisiana Board of Regents Cuts 100+ Programs

by Alexis Mattera

With the royal wedding set to happen in less than one day’s time, many people’s minds are filled with thoughts of excess, grandeur and all things sparkly. But instead of waking up at an ungodly hour to toast the new bride and groom with sapphire-hued Kate-tinis, the Louisiana Board of Regents has a rather opposite plan: cut more than 100 academic degree programs statewide.

The Regents labeled the programs averaging fewer than eight bachelor’s degree graduates, five master’s degree graduates or three doctoral graduates in the past three years as low-completers and terminated 109 programs directly, while 189 will be consolidated or shaped into new programs. Southern University, LSU, the University of Louisiana and Southeastern Louisiana University recorded the most degrees lost and no public historically black colleges will offer a bachelor’s degree in a foreign language once the programs are phased out; a small sliver of positive news for students is that eliminated programs will remain in place until currently-enrolled upperclassmen graduate.

Though Karen Denby, Regents associate commissioner for academic affairs, said the colleges will be more efficient with class sizes, faculty loads and graduation rates as a result of the cuts, some administrators – like Mike Gargano, LSU System vice president of student and academic support – are still wary about the motivation behind the changes...and we’d assume students are as well. To our Louisiana readers, does this announcement impact your intended major or career path?


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Oregon Students’ Nutty (and Delicious) Idea

Non-Business Majors Find Success with Peanut Butter Start-Up

May 10, 2011

Oregon Students’ Nutty (and Delicious) Idea

by Alexis Mattera

When dining halls are closed and hunger strikes, college students with limited funds find some pretty creative ways to prevent their stomach growls from waking their roommates. However, this is the most interesting way I’ve heard yet...not to mention the most lucrative and delicious.

University of Oregon students Keeley Tillotson and Erika Welsh found themselves in a quandary this past January when they ran out of peanut butter but instead of heading to the store for a jar, the pair threw some whole peanuts and other pantry items (raisins, chocolate and cinnamon) into their food processor. When the mixture elicited mmmmmmms instead of ewwwwwwws from friends, Tillotson and Welsh launched Flying Squirrel Peanut Butter into the universe. And it looks like it’s sticking around.

Tillotson, a journalism major, and Welsh, an environmental studies and Spanish major, claim they didn’t set out to create a business – “We’re filling a niche we didn’t know existed,” Tillotson said; adds Welsh, “We have so much faith in our product.” – but now their plans include full-fledged careers after college filled with cafés, ice creams and additional flavors of their signature product.

Have an equally creative idea that’s yet to take flight? Let Tillotson and Welsh be your inspiration! Learn more about Flying Squirrel here, here and here; just try not to drool on your keyboard.

P.S. I’m totally ordering some.


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What’s So Special About Specialized Majors?

Narrowing Your Focus is Both Risky and Rewarding

May 11, 2011

What’s So Special About Specialized Majors?

by Alexis Mattera

Starting college with a specific idea what you want to do with your life can make choosing a major, selecting classes and finding internships much easier than the decisions facing your undecided roommate. But is that specificity better? The answer is yes...and no. Well, actually, it’s a maybe.

With the increasing demand for expertise in narrow fields, some schools are putting programs in place to produce candidates perfectly suited for these niche jobs. SUNY at Albany, for example, has opened a College of Nanoscale Science to meet what The National Science Foundation estimates will be about 2 million workers with nanotechnology-centric backgrounds needed by 2014. The results so far are promising – even first-year students have already been offered summer internships with companies like Intel and IBM – but is this kind of specialization always wise?

To an extent, but career counselors, hiring consultants and academic officials think it’s more important for students to diversify their undergraduate years. Industry-specific skill sets may get a graduate into their chosen field faster but may severely limit career flexibility down the line. You may think you know your ideal career path but wait until you’ve taken a wide enough variety of classes to be sure...especially when employers report they value soft skills like effective communication, critical thinking and problem solving over precise training.

What do you think? Should you specialize right away or sample what your school has to offer before making a potentially life-changing decision?


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All Media Are Not Created Equal

Tablet, Smartphone Interest Soars While E-books Fail to Gain Traction

May 13, 2011

All Media Are Not Created Equal

by Alexis Mattera

With the popularity of wireless computing devices among college students, it would seem that e-textbooks would be just as attractive for this tech-savvy generation. Not so, according to a new survey: The printed textbook is still the big man on campus.

Student Monitor’s survey of 1,200 full-time students at four-year institutions revealed that although 54 percent of respondents owned smartphones, 87 percent owned laptops and nearly 50 percent reported interest in purchasing a wireless reading device, only 5 percent of respondents purchased access to an e-textbook this spring – and usually only because professors required them to. The proportion of students who rented at least one printed textbook, however, doubled to 24 percent from last spring. With campus bookstores and independent sites like Chegg.com making book rental easier and more available, the trend is only expected to grow: Thirty-six percent of underclassmen said they are either likely or very likely to rent at least one textbook next semester.

The main reason students are renting textbooks instead of buying the electronic versions? The savings, which were reported as about $127. With that kind of money back in the bank, students could splurge on their other "likes" the survey revealed...or maybe get a head start paying off some of those student loans. Which side are you on in the textbook debate – Team E-book or Team Rental – and why?


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Australian Student Discovers Universe’s "Missing Mass"

by Alexis Mattera

Summer breaks vary from college student to college student. Some work multiple jobs to help defray tuition costs, others intern or volunteer in their field of study and a select few sit by the pool and do absolutely nothing. Regardless of what they accomplish this summer – a semester paid in full, a professional reference or a tan – this student’s “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essay is going to be way more impressive.

Twenty-two-year-old Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, an undergraduate intern with a team at Monash University's School of Physics, recently confirmed she had found part of the universe’s “missing mass.” For those not majoring in science or aerospace engineering, this basically means that scientists had previously detected matter present in the early history of the universe but it had disappeared. Astrophysicists had been stymied by its absence for decades...until advanced technologies and Fraser-McKelvie came along. "We don't know where it went. Now we do know where it went because that's what Amelia found," said Monash astrophysicist Dr. Kevin Pimbblet. Pretty amazing stuff!

Now we have to ask: What are you doing over your summer break?


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Facebook College Group Etiquette

by Alexis Mattera

You’ve been accepted. You’ve paid your deposit. You’ve stocked up on apparel emblazoned with your future school’s name. What’s next? For many students today, it’s joining their new school’s Facebook page to share their excitement, concerns and any other feelings about their upcoming postsecondary experience. Sure, some students think that what they say or do on this page won’t matter because it’s “just Facebook” but others – like incoming Wake Forest freshman Nicole Echeverria – will tell you that being “that guy” or “that girl” won't help your cause.

Echeverria recently penned a piece for USA Today Education detailing her experiences on her school’s Class of 2015 page and the recent high school graduate has created some pretty good guidelines for other incoming freshmen to follow online. Metaphorical pinkies up!

  • Introducing yourself with a few simple facts (name, hometown, prospective major, interests, etc.) and initiating conversations with other admitted students is a great way to make friends before setting foot on campus in the fall. Meeting new people can be difficult for some; breaking the ice online makes the process that much easier.
  • Asking questions about anything and everything can bring about some excellent insight about the coming year. You could find a mentor on campus, seek out help filling out housing forms or see who else is going to a meet-up for students in your major.
  • Limit your comments and likes to a reasonable amount. Chances are, other members of the group have notifications sent to their inboxes and if they see your name on each and every one, you can bet they’ll want to delete you from all friend lists – virtual and real.
  • Feel free to friend others, but don’t do so with reckless abandon. If you notice you and another person have been commenting on all the same threads, send them a friend request with a short message noting this. Who knows...you could have just met your new roommate!

First collegiate impressions are no longer made on move-in day but instead in the months leading up to it. How are you putting your best foot forward online?


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UConn's New President Donates $100K for Scholarship

by Alexis Mattera

When most people start a new job, it takes a while for them to find their way and perfectly arrange their tchotchkes before they feel truly comfortable. Not Susan Herbst: She took over as president of the University of Connecticut just 22 days ago but she’s already made a huge impact on campus and beyond.

Herbst, the former executive vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia, and her husband, marketing consultant Douglas Hughes, have announced they will donate $100,000 to create a scholarship for needy UConn students pursuing degrees in the arts and humanities. "In these difficult times, UConn desperately needs increased private funding of student scholarships, faculty research, and building projects in order to become the top flagship university the state of Connecticut and its citizens deserve," she said in a statement.

The aptly-named Susan Herbst and Douglas Hughes Family Scholarship will be based on academic achievement and need and will be awarded for the first time next spring. Does this financial aid opportunity have you considering spending your college years in the Constitution State?


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