Dropout prevention is pivotal in all post-secondary institutions, as it’s important to ensure students are successful and are able to move toward their dream career or academic program, and, if dropout rates increase, your institution’s revenue will decrease. Learn what you can do to reduce and prevent dropouts, whether you do so by implementing diversity initiatives, specifically in graduate and medical school where dropping out can derail a student’s path and hard work, and/or focussing on helping students access the support they need.
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There are a lot of reasons people drop out of college, university, graduate, and professional school—and most of them are preventable.
Lack of funding and financial difficulties are common reasons for students to withdraw from their chosen academic program, but oftentimes students report a combination of factors leading to their official dropout. Unless they’re genuinely unhappy with their program/school choice, most students drop out a last resort because they feel like the system is stacked against them and they’re ‘in too deep’: they don't have enough academic support, professional support, peer or familial support, energy and time, and financial aid to help them stay in school.
But there are ways to reduce and prevent dropouts, and institutions should consider implementing all measures available, such as retention strategies or offering benefits through university partnerships in order to help students access education—and remain enrolled in their chosen program. BeMo partners with educational institutions to address dropout issues with the university student benefits program. With BeMo, students can have unlimited access to admissions help and expert career coaches, as well as services like essay writing and interview skills one-on-one coaching. Best of all, this comes at no extra cost to universities and helps them prevent dropouts.
Why Are Dropout Rates Important to Track?
- Dropout rates can affect a program's reputation
- Dropout decreases an institution's revenues
- Dropout affects students who leave, and those who stay in the program
Dropout rates in post-secondary institutions are a big concern, and should be tracked and noted each semester and/or annually, as high dropout rates are usually indicative of a problem (or several). Dropout rates may affect how an institution may be perceived by the professional world, by the public, and by prospective students, and a high dropout rate can tarnish a school’s reputation in general. Further, your institution is a place of business. When students dropout and dropout rates begin to increase, your revenue will, inevitably, decrease, which can affect the learning environment and campus facilities, research opportunities, and culture as a whole.
Dropout rates also affect the students who drop out, and their families, directly, as they indicate that dreams and goals may have been crushed, and students will be left in debt, without a degree. High dropout rates affecting a particular community may indicate that certain students from a specific socioeconomic status or underrepresented community are being cycled through your institution (without graduating) and their needs aren’t being met, despite their determination to succeed. And, high dropout rates in certain geographic locations may indirectly impact the economy, whether it be in a small county or town, or state/province-wide.
When students don't complete their education, they're less likely to have good jobs and earn higher wages—which means they'll have a hard time paying off debt and supporting their current and future families. Students who enroll in post-secondary generally do so with a goal in mind, whether it's a specific career, or, an ideal designation they'd like to earn in order to have more opportunities for growth and learning down the road. Many students will pursue a degree or certificate in order to get a job, which is why it's important for colleges and universities to focus on more than just the designation being awarded, but the development and support of each individual student. If you want your institution to train and graduate future scholars, engineers, marketers, doctors, lawyers, tech experts, teachers, therapists, and other great contributors to society, you must ensure all of your students are given the tools they need to succeed and feel included on your campus.
When a student drops out, for whatever reason, they're throwing away their goals, dreams, and career aspirations. Whether they're merely discouraged or facing personal or financial difficulties, most dropouts are quite preventable if pre-emptive measures are taken.
There will be students who inevitably decide that they don't like their program, or, may simply find they don't want to pursue their degree or diploma any more, and that’s to be expected. But, many students who dropout—whether in their first year of undergrad, or, mid-way through a higher-level program—do so as a last resort when they aren't given the support, tools and resources they need to succeed. If your institution has a high dropout rate, something has to be done during the admissions process, as well as once the students are enrolled, in order to ensure students who are coming to your school are being set up for success rather than wasting time, effort, and a large sum of money.
Why Do Students Dropout?
There are many reasons why students of all ages and across all programs drop out of post-secondary. Some of these include:
It’s important to note that many of these issues and factors often arise simultaneously. For example, if a student from an underrepresented community, with little familial support, has financial difficulties and struggles to balance school with their part time job—which they require in order to pay for school – and also feels that they don’t fit in with their classmates, they may become stressed, isolated, overwhelmed, and in turn, begin to struggle with mental health issues as well.
This is why it’s important to approach dropout prevention from a broad stance and consider all factors that lead to increased dropout rates when strategizing how to prevent it. Dropout prevention starts before enrollment, and should continue until graduation! Students need to feel supported, and be given options, throughout their academic experience.
5 Best Strategies to Reduce and Prevent Dropouts
#1: Preparing students BEFORE they enroll
If you’re wondering how you can prevent a student from dropping out before they even enroll—or apply—picture it like this: if students are unaware of the challenges they may face, they may be unprepared to handle them when they do arise. For example, students should know that it’s normal to struggle with time management at first; many people find it difficult to balance schoolwork and a job while also trying to have a social life. Students should also be made aware of the costs and dedication of time that post-secondary school requires, so they aren’t overwhelmed when they start their first year.
Additionally, students should be able to learn about different programs and realities of navigating campus life before enrolling and even before they apply to a program. Whether a community college, university campus, or graduate program, students should know what to expect and should be able to access campus tours, shadowing opportunities, Q&A sessions or anything else that might help them get a feel for their chosen program and workload. This may also include being able to access professors and staff, or even peer mentors who can help students by answering their burning questions about campus life before they enroll! Students should also be aware of what their costs will be and how they can pay for them. For example, many students are unaware that some community colleges offer scholarships; this is often because these schools don’t advertise their opportunities in a way that makes them easily accessible (such as through online applications).
Let students know what resources and services they’ll have access to—should they enroll. A great way to communicate this information to students outside of campus visits or scheduled sessions is by utilizing social media platforms and program websites to offer students a no-frills, digestible taste of some campus content and footage. This may include program-specific highlights, student interviews, information about extracurriculars, financial aid or scholarship application tips, or anything in between. Using a tool that many students will recognize can allow information to resonate with them, and help them feel prepared for their academic journey.
#2: Offer access to peer, professional, and academic support and counselling
Offering peer, professional, and academic support is worthwhile as it gives students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and across all programs, the chance to socialize and build relationships with their peers.
This can be especially important for students who may feel isolated on campus due to personal circumstances or a lack of social connections in the area. For example, students in rural areas may not have access to many people outside of their immediate community; this can make it more difficult for them to find support from friends and family when they need it most. This is also important for students who may be visible minorities, struggling from an illness or mental health, or disabled, or, who may be first-generation university students. Some students do not have familial support, and act as their own support system, and this can be damaging to their self-perception and mental health as they navigate a new living and learning environment. Even if they aren’t involved in social activities by choice, it’s healthy to foster a sense of belonging for all. Additionally, international students may face particular barriers, such as isolation, and would benefit from services specifically tailored to them, such as college counseling for international students.
Every institution should provide students with an academic college advisor, international student advisor or counsellor who is available to them either virtually or in-person by appointment or walk-in. This person should be able to answer questions about course registration and clarify any confusion that students might have. At the same time, they should help students understand the requirements for graduation and how they can meet those requirements in a timely fashion. When students are struggling, they may not realize that their GPA is plummeting, and sometimes having an observant advisor call them in for a meeting to reduce a course load, or, recommend a tutor, can help reassure them that they’ll still be able to achieve their dreams, but they need to take a step back and rework their game plan.
Additionally, students of all backgrounds will benefit from having counsellors--whether personal, financial, or mental-health oriented-- as access to such professionals can vastly improve how a student navigates turbulent semesters and succeeds. Giving students access to this kind of support is a good strategy to ensure they don't just drop everything or, 'throw in the towel' and quit after failing a course, struggling financially, or having a bad experience.
Advisors should also be equipped to handle complaints. Whether they refer students to Ombudsman offices to dispute a grade, or, tackle certain issues, like diversity and inclusion conflicts, themselves, they should be prepared to refer students to other professionals on campus who can help them resolve any issues that may arise.
Finally, apart from academic advising, preparatory services and academic consulting are wonderful ways to retain students/prevent dropouts. This is important because, unfortunately, many students may give up if they feel overwhelmed by higher education, even if they’re halfway through, or nearly finished, their undergrad! They may require graduate school application prep help and need to review the application processes, and may benefit from receiving guidance for MCAT prep or how to prepare for their MMI, among several other things. Offering academic consulting services can help students feel supported during their current educational endeavours by helping them get organized and feel confident to tackle their future in academia—regardless of their chosen field. Students may drop out because they feel, for example, they don’t know how to get into grad school with a low GPA and become discouraged, but academic consultants can help them learn how to utilize their other strengths and experiences and craft application materials (and attend interviews) that speak to their personal strengths and exhibit confidence. Academic consultants can also help students prepare for their future by advising what they might require in order to stand out for a specific program; for example, sharing the truth about why most pre-meds get rejected, and sharing insight on pre-medical experiences for hopeful future MD’s.
#3: Financial aid
Incoming and existing students, even students in upper years, should be made aware of financial aid opportunities such as bursaries, scholarships, grants and loans.
Whether these are specific to an institution or federal (or, a faulty-specific award), students should be regularly encouraged to apply for financial aid if they're in need. This can be done by advertising the financial aid packages at orientation, on the school’s website, on social media, across student platforms and online portals, and even in-person with academic advisors, counselors, consultants, and international student scholarship consultants. This will help students who are unaware of the options available to them. It will also give students a sense that their needs are being met by their institution. Students who are uncertain about their financial situation should be encouraged to speak with an advisor or counsellor as well. This can help them better understand the options available to them and make informed decisions about whether they need to apply for financial aid. When students feel that their needs are being met, and that, regardless of their financial situation, earning their degree is possible, they’re less likely to dropout.
#4: Invest in disability services and diversity inclusion on campus
Diversity and inclusion are key to a successful, thriving university or college community. As such, many institutions have invested in dedicated disability and diversity offices on campus. These offices can be a great resource for students with disabilities or who identify as members of underrepresented communities. They can help students connect with other like-minded individuals and mentors, participate in programs designed to boost their confidence and self-esteem, or find ways to get involved with the greater community at large.
Diversity and inclusion should also be at the forefront of campus and program values. Discrimination cannot be tolerated, and all areas of a campus must be accessible for all students. Fostering an inclusive, modern, caring environment that includes faculty, campus employees and students is a great way to help all students feel welcome and motivated to continue their education. Campus facilities should be modern and well-maintained as much as possible. A well-designed campus that promotes diversity and inclusion, as well as disability awareness, can give students a sense of pride in their school, as well as help them feel safer and more secure, regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, handicap, socioeconomic status or creed.
#5: On-campus employment
Offering employment opportunities on campus is a great way to reduce and prevent dropouts, as well as encourage students to return for their second, third, and fourth year of school…and beyond, depending on their program!
Jobs on campus can help students pay for expenses, earn extra money and develop new skills. Student employment programs can be vast and can include food services, cleaning services, office jobs, jobs in recreation facilities, libraries, retail, or even faculty-specific jobs. A strong student employment program also helps create a sense of community, which may lead to better retention rates. Additionally, for students who are struggling financially, as well as emotionally or with time management, may feel that having a job on campus not only gives them a chance to earn money, but also a chance to connect with other like-minded students, meet peers and professors outside of class, and also, decreases stress, as they won’t have to commute off-campus for work, and many on-campus jobs are very considerate of student’s timetables and exam schedules.
1. Why do students drop out of post-secondary?
Students may dropout of post secondary for a number of reasons, including:
- Being unprepared for the academic rigor of the program and overwhelmed
- Not having adequate financial resources to pay for tuition and living expenses
- Feeling like they don’t fit in with their classmates and professors
- Not feeling supported by their family or community
- Overwhelmed and/or not enjoying their courses
- Having a mental health issue or another illness or disability that interferes with their ability to do well in school
- Being unable to balance school and work once they start their program
- Not feeling like their dreams and career goals are achievable (for example, graduate or professional school)
Most of these reasons are preventable, and that’s why having a dropout prevention strategy that considers all factors is advised.
2. Why is it important to address dropout rates?
Students should always come first. If students are dropping out because they feel they have no other options—whether for financial aid, mental health, peer support, or anything else—it’s important that your campus offers ample options, services, and resources to help students before they decide to drop out indefinitely.
Additionally, high dropout rates are indicative of a problem on campus, whether lack of resources and supports, or something else like poor quality courses or issues on campus. This can damage your school’s reputation.
3. What can be done for students who may drop out due to lack of financial aid?
Make information about scholarships, awards, grants, bursaries, loans, and on-campus employment readily available to all of your students year-round. Encourage faculty and on-campus clubs, counsellors, and advisors to mention this information so that students are aware of their options and feel motivated to apply for aid if they need it.
4. How can faculty get involved with dropout prevention?
Faculty can help prevent dropouts by being inclusive and considerate of all students. Holding regular office hours, being flexible with deadlines (especially if many students work full time jobs or are struggling with an illness), recording lectures and notes online, and speaking freely about financial aid and support services can help students feel like they are more than ‘just a number’ in a classroom.
5. What’s a unique strategy to prevent and reduce dropouts?
Having a well-rounded approach, and considering many factors, as we reviewed in this blog, is a great way to prevent dropouts because many dropout decisions are made based on several co-occurring factors, such as: financial troubles, work-life-school balancing issues, lack of support, and even depleting mental health as a result of stress caused by a low GPA, that decreased due to a student being overworked, overwhelmed, and struggling to afford their education.
To put it simply, if you offer great peer, professional, and academic support services, foster a community of inclusivity that promotes diversity, offer great financial aid opportunities and have faculty and all departments of your institution communicate all of these thing with students, you’ll increase the chances of each student being able to find the resources and tools they need to succeed.
6. What should be done to address upper-year dropouts?
Upper year drop outs may drop out for any number of reasons, however, sometimes they do so because they feel overwhelmed by their future goals, and do not feel that they’re achievable. For example, a third-year undergrad student may dream of apply to a medical program, but may feel that they’ve exhausted financial aid options, and that they’re too overwhelmed to focus on a medical school application and pre-medical experience. Offering academic consulting services can help students in all fields understand graduate school and professional school applications and interviews, as well as any exams or courses that will be required of them. An academic consultant can also help a student discover what is possible for them, and what path best suits them.
7. How can institutions be pro-active when it comes to dropout prevention?
Before students apply, and before they enroll, let them know a bit about each program, the campus, and what financial aid options are available. Share what resources and services they’ll have access to, and offer experiences that can help them get a taste of their program, such as shadowing or campus visits. A great way to communicate important information to students outside of campus visits or scheduled sessions is by utilizing social media platforms and program websites. Essentially, reach out to students and make them feel included and supported from day one, and don’t hide any vital tips and information that may help them understand what the next few years of their lives will look like on-campus.
8. What if, despite our best efforts, students are still dropping out?
Despite your best efforts, it’s only natural that some students may leave. Some may have had goals when they first applied that don’t align with who they are—or what they want to achieve—now. Others may decide that your programs and campus are not for them, and may opt to move in a different direction. It’s okay to lose a few students, especially first years who may have acted too quickly and chosen a path that they weren’t ready to commit too. Fret not, they may return one day! However, what matters is that students aren’t leaving heartbroken and crushed, despite their desire to stay, because they feel they have no other option to afford and continue with school.
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