“College” is not the reason students drop out of college, but colleges can help lessen the dropout rate. Some professionals find higher education unnecessary; this mentality is welcomed to an extent, as there are a few exceptional examples of successful non-graduates (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg). From a different view, a degree is useful for the future. Unfortunately, a fraction of people purposely pursuing a degree will also end up as college dropouts and less successful.
An annual report was released by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) in December, 2017. The organization partners with institutions to improve educational experiences while keeping a record of previous performance education. For 2017, the report included rates on college students graduating. About 45% of students complete their degrees at the same institution, and 12% of students transfer before completing their degree. This bring the overall graduate percentage to an ambiguous 57%. If you see the glass as half-full, you see more students graduate than drop out overall. However, the dropout percentage being almost equal to the graduate percentage is a concern.
The Illinois-based Oakton Community College noticed students were dropping out of the college at a rate of five students per day back in 2015. The college typically enrolls 9,000 students. The president of the college, Joianne Smith, decided to begin the All for One Project in response. Smith encouraged faculty to check in with at least one student at least five times a semester. Such encouragement caused faculty to begin their own project. Hollace Graff, a philosophy professor, pioneered the Persistence Project to further the encouragement.
The Persistence Project prioritizes instructors choosing at least one class to improve individual interactions with students. Aside from learning names or asking feedback on the course, the instructors schedule a 15-minute conference with each student. This is done early in the semester. Students feel more relaxed speaking, since the first time talking to the instructors is not related to a stressful situation such as facing academic trouble. Instructors also commit to attending at least one co-curricular event or activity and suggesting outside resources to students. The Persistence Project is voluntary for faculty. Oakton offers professional development to help faculty ask open-ended questions, but not all faculty feel comfortable participating.
Instructors learn much more about their students during this project. The conversations revolve around what troubles the students. Common concerns of students include food insecurity, transportation issues, and family illnesses. For many immigrant students, the common concern regards deportation. Faculty can experience stress and helplessness, as they have limited ways to help with these types of issues. The project requires personal investment, but Oakton states that this approach has worked best. Since 2015, the graduation rate has risen from 18% to 22%.
The data of the Oakton student body reflects current college students in America. One third of students drop out of college, and approximately 28% of students drop out before their sophomore year. Many student dropouts had to take remedial courses, meaning that the students will spend more time and money at college. Other challenges include homesickness and not having help in paying tuition. The major problem among dropouts is not knowing how to balance school, work, and life.
College is where many people are testing their own time management without constant authoritative pressure. Students might struggle with a careless or overactive social life. Working too many hours consequently plays into this balancing act. Having no guidance adds more stress to the individual’s life. Around 54% of students chose “money” as the reason for dropping out of college, since they lack a balance of work and school.
Students should not be quitting school if it can be prevented, especially when colleges can address the issues of overwhelm and balance. The goal of increased interaction is not to create a coddling environment. Paying more attention to the students’ experience improves the overall journey for those who would like to work towards graduating. Other colleges can use Oakton’s story as inspiration to explore the options of connecting with the students as a means of lessening the dropout rate.