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Study Focuses On Reasons Students Leave College

Compiled By CityTownInfo.com Staff
December 11, 2009

A report released this week indicates that the main reason young adults drop out of college is because of the difficulties they face juggling school and work.

The study, entitled "With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them," surveyed over 600 people ages 22 to 30 and was conducted by the Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research firm, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The survey compared those who dropped out of college to those who received degrees or certificates from two- or four-year institutions.

"The conventional wisdom is that students leave school because they aren't willing to work hard and aren't really interested in more education," noted Jean Johnson, executive vice president of Public Agenda and one of the report's authors, who was quoted in The New York Times. "What we found was almost precisely the opposite. Most work and go to school at the same time, and most are not getting financial help from their families or the system itself."

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 2.8 million students enroll in institutions of higher learning every year, but far fewer earn their degrees: Only one in five of those enrolled at two-year colleges earn associate's degrees within three years, and only two in five of those in four-year institutions graduate within six years. As a result, many colleges and universities have now focused their attention on improving retention rates.

According to the survey, the main reason students dropped out was because of the stress of working and going to school at the same time. The second most common reason was an inability to afford tuition and fees. The report noted that about 45 percent of students at four-year institutions work more than 20 hours a week, and 60 percent at community colleges. In addition, 23 percent of college students have dependent children.

"It was just too much to pay for school and to pay rent and pay bills," explained Frankie Barria, a New Yorker who spoke to reporters and was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor. His work commitments forced him to drop out of City University of New York after three years. He later attempted to return to school twice, but ultimately was not able to complete his studies. "I was forced at 19 to become an adult," he said.

Students polled offered solutions for ways to help them stay in school: Most wanted financial aid to be made available to part-time students. Others suggested offering more evening, weekend and summer courses and providing day care and more student loans.

Johnson pointed out that institutions should be doing their best to adapt to the needs of their students. "They need to start thinking about the fact they have students in different circumstances," she was quoted as saying in the Christian Science Monitor, "and how they need to change and accommodate what the reality is for a lot of students."

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