College Guide


December 11, 2009 2:39 PM Why Students Drop Out of College

By Daniel Luzer


A recent report from Public Agenda, With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them: Myths and Realities About Why So Many Students Fail to Finish College, looks at college dropouts. Without being overly simplistic here, the report indicates that students do not, as a rule, drop out of college because college is too hard. Students drop out of college because college is too expensive.

People often say that low intellectual ability or poor work ethic are the reasons students drop out of college. David Brooks, for instance, wrote in the New York Times in July that:

Lack of student aid is not the major reason students drop out of college. They drop out because they are academically unprepared or emotionally disengaged or because they lack self-discipline or because bad things are happening at home. Affordability is way down the list. You can increase student aid a ton and you still won’t have a huge effect on college completion.

But the Public Agenda report, first in a series of three, indicates that the reality is that students leave college mostly because they’re attempting to support themselves by working while going to school, which doesn’t work very well: “Most students leave college because they are working to support themselves and going to school at the same time. At some point, the stress of work and study just becomes too difficult.”

The report explains that cost reduction and financial aid changes would be very beneficial to “nearly all college students.” Of students surveyed, 25 percent of students who left college and 40 percent of people who earned a degree say that the best thing that could happen would be reducing the cost of college by one quarter. Instituting that suggestion would reduce the price of the average public, four-year school to $5,265 a year.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Armando Gaytan on June 13, 2011 12:50 PM:

    While I don't disagree in principle with the premise that the high cost of education is a primary cause for students dropping out of college, in my view There are others factors in play.

    College students can resolve this dilemma by reducing the number of classes per year or the number of working hours.

    Another dynamic at play here; however, is that students were never prepared for their independent learning;
    managing their time, planning, scheduling, speed reading
    setting goals and objectives and loving "life living skills."