Why is Dropping Out of College So Widespread?

Students don't go to college with the intention of dropping out, yet just over half of them do just that. So what are some of the most common reasons for students not going the distance?

Lack of Preparedness: College can be a huge leap from high school for many students, as the workload intensifies in conjunction with the freedom and self-motivation. Students go from teachers doling out classwork on a regular basis with full accountability to being one face in several hundred. The relationship between learner and teacher is suddenly gone, and the burden is on the student to ensure the work gets done.

 Further, the type of work expected in college tends to be more theoretical, abstract, and critical-thinking. It also takes place outside of class, as just showing up for courses doesn't garner attendance marks. And if the work doesn't get done, the work doesn't get done. That's it.


Debt: Not only has the price of tuition been increasing, it's actually tripled over the last 30 years, with the average cost of one year at a private institution often amounting to more than a graduate can expect to earn right after college. Student loans—often from multiple sources—are usually a necessity to cover the shortfall, but it amounts in an average graduating debt load in the mid $20,000s.

At this point, it becomes a cold matter of cost-benefit analysis, with students dropping out because it just doesn't pay to be in university anymore. Each day that passes and each dollar coming out of their pocket causes students to ask themselves if they're really be ahead after two or four years.

Wrong Path: Students change majors all the time, but beyond that, a good chunk of them begin to realize that university just isn't going to lead to what they want to do in life. For example, a bachelor's degree isn't needed to become a plumber or carpenter, and students may drop out in favor of finding an apprenticeship.

Part of a Minority: As much as the education system says it helps out Latino, Native-American and African-American students, the numbers indicate otherwise. It's not that minorities aren't enrolling in college, but that they're not joining their white peers in striding across the podium to collect their degrees. The problem is also seen a lot more at public rather than private universities, with the latter being able to cherry pick the best, brightest, and most likely to succeed from the applicant pool.

The gap between students who enroll and students who graduate is alarming, but not as much as the reasons behind it. Instead of pointing to a problem within colleges, the poor graduation rate seems more symptomatic of our society with its inability to send the right students off to university in the first place.