In fall 2022, over 18 million students had enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. However, at the current rate of graduation, millions of those students will leave school without earning their degree. As institutions continue to combat stalled graduation rates, the question remains: what compels a student to leave college and, furthermore, what can be done about it?

From familial obligations to affordability, there are many reasons why individuals may leave college without completing their degree or credentials—but what are the most prevalent issues for students today? In order to gain firsthand insight into these issues and offer informed solutions, Trellis Research partnered with eight institutions to conduct Student Re-Engagement Surveys.

Administered to 40,753 individuals between 2022 and 2023, the Student Re-Engagement Surveys asked former students from the participating institutions to identify issues that led them to leave school without a degree. Throughout the course of these surveys, Trellis consultants received data from upwards of 2,100 individuals.

After analyzing this student-centric data, Trellis was able to identify key factors that impacted their decision to either withdraw or stop out of school. Here are the most frequently identified barriers to academic completion according to former college students:

Personal Financial Issues – 41%

Many stopped-out students who selected “personal financial reasons” as a reason for leaving the college and reported significant financial problems. Among these issues were topics like financial hardship and discomfort with taking out additional loans to cover costs.

Financial Aid issues – 35%

Affordability concerns were another commonality among former students. The cost of attending college has risen steadily over the past two decades, often leaving students with financial aid packages that cannot fully meet the cost of attendance. Furthermore, getting students to understand the process of filling out the FAFSA is a perennial issue for countless institutions across the nation.

Family Obligations/Personal Reasons – 32%

Though personal and familial obligations can be subjective, multiple responses noted 24/7 caretaking, death(s) in the family, and everyday stressors as common reasons for not continuing their education.

Additionally, postsecondary students also tend to struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. These issues, when mixed in with the readjustments to schooling brought on by the pandemic, may be having prolonged effects on students with mental struggles. In fact, the CDC and other trusted organizations have warned that preexisting mental health problems may have worsened for many individuals.

Academics (GPA, course grades, difficulty of courses, etc.) – 26%

College coursework can be challenging, and many students may be unprepared for the challenges of university academics. This puts them at risk of academic probation which, in turn, can lead to disqualifications for financial aid packages. Feelings of frustration with understanding new concepts plus pressure to complete projects and homework under deadlines only add to this overall stress.

Employment (conflicting work/school schedule, need to work, etc.) – 23%

For students who want or need to work while in school, balancing work and study obligations is a difficult task. Working full-time hours in addition to attending college may have negative consequences on academic performance. What’s more, some respondents felt that working full-time negated the purpose of a college degree in helping them attain a job post-graduation.

While the aforementioned takeaways are among the most cited reasons for stopping out, other issues such as lack of reliable transportation, personal health, and institutional offerings were highlighted in Trellis’ survey.

Trellis is currently accepting new clients and can administer this survey with your institution. Partnering with Trellis can help you identify student barriers to completion and re-enrollment and develop programs to alleviate these barriers.

As a partner institution, your school will receive in-depth survey results as well as customized strategic plans for improving student support and boosting re-enrollment rates. Contact us at today to help more of your students complete their education.

RAS Infographic Re-Engagement

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