Why Students Drop Out of College and How to Prevent this From Happening

Updated on December 17, 2016

Not Gone for Long

More than 625,000 students throughout the United States will head to college this fall for the first time. Many of them will soon be back home again, living with their parents.

The freshmen drop-out rate of about 25 percent is astoundingly high. One of the leading reasons is lack of financial support.

Nearly three out of four students holds an outside job. Usually, this is a necessity because tuition has risen much faster than the average family income.

It's fair to say the price of college is now out of reach for many Americans. Although some parents have saved, most students will have to rely upon a combination of loans, grants and scholarships.

How Things Have Changed

Dropping out is nothing new. But, years ago, it was easier to pick up the pieces. You took some time off, matured a bit and returned to school, if that's what you wanted to do.

A generation ago, someone I knew went to a large state university and didn't apply herself. Consequently, she failed some classes. After some time at a community college, she was ready to study. Because her GPA had suffered, she needed to jump through a few hoops before being readmitted to the university. But money didn't hold her back.

Tuition at state schools was still negligible. So she wasn't totally dependent upon financial aid.

She eventually graduated, went to law school and passed the bar exam. This is an example of how it was once possible to have a second chance.

The same scenario, though, would probably play out much differently today.

That's because returning to school may pose an insurmountable financial burden. (I'll explain this in more detail in the next section.)

Students can no longer pay for college themselves. They need a lot of parental help, as well as institutional-based financial aid. Even a full-time summer job, if they can find one, will only cover part of their expenses.

Attending a private college for four years can easily cost upwards of $240,000 at some elite schools. A public education is less expensive, but can still run $100,000 or more at a flagship state university.

It's Increasingly Difficult to Pay for College

A college degree is practically a necessity.
A college degree is practically a necessity. | Source

Financial Aid the Second Time Around

The prized aid packages are awarded to strong freshmen candidates as a means of building a competitive and attractive class. Transfer or returning students may get a little help, depending upon their need. But they can expect their financial aid to primarily consist of loans, which must be repaid.

Returning to school after dropping out is a very expensive proposition. This is complicated by the fact that, in addition to meager grant funds, returnees may also have loans from their previous enrollment. Parents may also carry a heavy debt burden, making it less likely they can offer as much assistance as before.

Prevention is the Best Remedy for Staying in School

Because it's so difficult to recover from an educational disruption, it makes sense to prevent this from happening.

The number one factor leading to dropping out is lack of finances, according to the website Classes and Careers.

With high expenses, many students must work more hours than they should. Most parents can help, but only to a point. When this isn't enough, a student's job becomes essential.

Work may interfere with the ability to study. These three factors combined - lack of money, failing grades and need to work long hours - are most often what drive students off campus.

Some of this, undoubtedly, can be mitigated by taking a closer look at the total cost of attending a particular college. For many years, students have applied to their dream schools, and then found a way to pay. But, for those without the means, this puts their future at risk.

A lower-priced, less competitive college may, instead, serve them much better.

The Financial Realities of Leaving Campus Early

  • Only about 60 percent of students who begin college will earn a degree.
  • About six out of ten college dropouts will return to school without financial help from their parents.
  • Most returning students (70 percent) will not have any assistance in the form of loans or scholarships.

Other Reasons Students Don't Reach the Finish Line

Many students cannot keep up with the workload. The dropout rate is also influenced by the fact that today, nearly everyone, at least begins some form of higher education.

But that's not who this article is written for. This article is written for those who have the ability to graduate, but don't have the money, or something else stops them from reaching their goal.

This includes a number of other avoidable factors.

Some students may feel the school is a bad fit. Actually, this is a fairly common scenario. I know of one woman who had to leave a small liberal arts college partly because she wasn't comfortable there. Her parents were hard-working immigrants who weren't born into such an elite atmosphere.

If possible, visit a campus several times before making a commitment. Also read online reviews. If a lot of students share the same complaint, it may have merit.

My daughter crossed one college off her list because, while visiting, we noticed a distinct air of snobbery. The reviews we read later seemed to confirm this.

Homesickness is another reason students move out of their dorms. I often question the wisdom of sending 17, 18 and 19-year-olds to live on their own, for the first time, in a different part of the country.

I know of one mother greatly saddened at the thought of her daughter living away. But not for long. That's because she wanted to come home every weekend. Fortunately, her school was just an hour's drive away.

Is College Necessary?

Having a college degree or some form of vocational training is becoming increasingly necessary in today's information-oriented and highly competitive workplace.

Although many people are able to succeed in life without going to college, they usually have a plan and the ability to carry it forward.

What is the Best College Advice You Can Give?

Submit a Comment
  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from USA

    Hi Debra, thanks so much for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Paula, thanks so much for reading. I missed your comment until today.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Hi nadine, you have my total sympathy. Things are ridiculous and they shouldn't be that way. A college degree is increasingly becoming a necessity. However, it is not affordable for the average American to go away to school and live there. At the same time, high schools are pushing people to go to expensive schools. Something has to give.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from USA

    Thank you for reading. I write under ologsinquito at Hub Pages, if that would work for you.

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Hi ologsinquito, I am doing a speech for public speaking class on this very subject and was wondering if I could get an Author name for this article for my bibliography page of cited material. Thanks!

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from USA

    Hi Joe,

    Blessings to you to. Thank you for reading.

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image

    Hawaiian Odysseus 

    7 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    I know I may sound biased, but Washington and Hawai'i, two states I'm very familiar with, both have EXCELLENT community colleges. This venue is an excellent and financially reasonable alternative to the more expensive "brand name" universities. One can then parlay the first two years of success into affordable financial planning for the final two years.

    Brand name schools do not, in my opinion, necessarily translate into better jobs. For that reason, attending a state institution of higher learning may in the long run be a better and more fiscally responsible alternative than opting for private universities.

    And if a family is intent on going the private university route, parochial venues make great sense, especially when the church of choice offers grants and scholarships based on either or both merit and need, to supplement the family portion of the educational bill. This is the route our SDA family took with both our son and daughter, and it's turned out to be a godsend.

    Thank you for your well-written and universally heartwarming article.

    Blessings and aloha!


  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from USA

    Hi New Understanding,

    Thank you so much for commenting. The reason I wrote this article is to try to warn people that this is very serious business, and second chances may not happen. That's why they need to chose their college wisely, and not take any risks. The competition right now is otherworldly.

  • New Understanding profile image

    New Understanding 

    7 years ago from Northern California

    Good info. My daughter works as a financial aid officer and once you are in, it's imperative to work hard and stay in school. There are SO MANY people waiting for classes for their majors and fewer and fewer professors teaching due to all the budget cuts. If you quit someone else will take your place with a blink of an eye and you'll have a very hard time getting back in after that. Good hub I voted up


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