• 20 September 2018
Why Do Students Drop Out of College?

Why Do Students Drop Out of College?

Jun 19, 2018

Approximately half of American college students drop out. Many reasons exist for the startling reality, although some factors – especially the high cost of modern college education – are more prominent than others. Here are several ways that tutors and parents can help students stay in college.

In 2017, the number of American college students graduating within six years stood at 57 percent – a disappointing dropout rate that comes as no surprise looking at historical trends.

Why do approximately half of all American college students drop out? The reasons are many, and effectively tackling the dropout rate means genuinely addressing some of these reasons within our control.

Low Income vs. High Income Students

Lower income students struggle to stay in college. In 2009, 25 percent of low-income students graduated college within six years: compare that to the 60 percent of high-income students who did graduate. In addition, between 10 – 40 percent of high school seniors who are accepted to college don’t make it to the first semester, with lower-income students more likely not to attend.

The issues that lower income students face are not unique to them alone – the high costs of tuition and board, adjusting to the college and institutional environment, underprepared emotional and social skills – but they are affected disproportionately by them.

Many lower-income students also face the additional pressure of being first-generation college students. A recent study commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that 50 percent of dropouts come from families where neither parent had a college education. That often means these students lack the social skills and generational experience of adjusting to college pressures and expectations.

High Costs

College tuition has become increasingly unaffordable for many would-be scholars. In 2016, the average cost of tuition at all U.S. institutions was around $22,000, with the average cost for private, 4-year colleges approaching $40,000.

The high costs of college education puts added pressure on less financially able students, who may have family and work commitments. According to that same Gates Foundation study, 71 percent of dropouts said that work contributed to their decision.

Just Not Ready

A 2016 study by The Education Trust found that 60 percent of high schoolers lack any college preparation course. This lack of preparation often leads to inadequate academic and social skills, the need for remedial programs, and finally, dropping out of college. Other students drop out because they believe they made the wrong choice of school or study – pressuring them to leave rather than find a way to adjust.

Cutting Off the Dropout Pipeline

How can tutors and parents ensure their students can face the challenges of staying in college?

1. Build social and emotional skills

The rise of social and emotional learning (SEL) spotlights the importance of building the right social and emotional skills to withstand the pressures of college life (or academics and careers, more generally) and to flourish as a scholar.

Tutors should be attuned to their students’ SEL needs through observation, assessment, and most critically, an open dialogue. The same goes for parents: when students struggle with adjusting to an academic environment, the issues often stem from difficulties that students face in articulating those problem areas and navigating beyond them.

2. Become financially literate

Everyone could benefit from becoming financially literate, especially young college students who are willing to take on long-term student debt. Parents should ensure their children know the risks and responsibilities of student debt, as well as how to plan tight finances during those college years. At the same time, every college prep tutor need to know their way around the questions and concerns that every college-bound student should raise.

3. Support first-generation students

First-generation college students need a firm foundation to thrive in their new environment. They may require more peer support and guidance than other college students – although tutors and parents have plenty to offer every rising college freshman, especially when it comes to budgeting finances and building that all-important emotional resilience.


There’s never one answer to any individual student’s issues, but with the right tools and mindset – and attentive tutors and parents – the college experience can become all the more manageable, and more crucially, students will be less likely to buckle under the pressure.