Six Drop Out Causes and Solutions to Keep Higher Ed Students in School

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Quick Take: Keeping students from dropping out depends on a retention strategy that is based on understanding why they are choosing to leave school in the first place.

Students are dropping out of college and it’s a global problem that must be acknowledged with a stronger approach. Let’s take a closer look at some of the main causes and solutions to keep students in university.

Some Graduation and Dropout Rates Around the Globe

Icon: High Costs 
Icon: Isolation
Icon: Academic Difficulties due to Unclear Expectations
Icon: Conciliation Between Work and Study
Icon: Lack of Interest in Courses
Icon: Psychological Issues

What is Causing Students to Leave Higher Education? 

High Costs            With a constant rise in higher education costs, it is becoming harder for students to continue their studies, especially if they don’t have financial assistance from their families.
Isolation Students often find it difficult to reach out to faculty members for assistance with coursework, as well as channeling their newfound ‘freedom’ in the right way, as for most of them, it is the first time they experience being on their own. It can also lead them to social inadequacies that can bring them a step closer to leaving school.
Academic Difficulties due to Unclear Expectations Students often don’t have a clear understanding regarding the institution’s academic and behavioral expectations.
Conciliation Between Work and Study Students that attend university on a part-time basis due to work obligations or other demands tend to leave school more often than those who attend full-time. It is common that part-time students fall behind due to time management and workload challenges.
Lack of Interest in Courses Students who focus too much on requisite courses that do not interest them are more likely to drop out, rather than those who balance their subjects between required courses and electives.
Psychological Issues Substance abuse, learning disabilities, attention/hyperactivity disorders, and autism-spectrum disorders are some of the most common psychological issues students face today.
Icon: More Efficient Colleges and Universities
Icon: Habits for Success
Icon: Big Goals, Small Steps
Icon: Data Collection
Icon: Intervention Programs
Icon: Student Success Goals

How Institutions Can Keep Students Enrolled

More Efficient Colleges and Universities          Practicing the Five Pillars of Online Learning Effectiveness helps develop and sustain online learning programs, including: faculty satisfaction, student satisfaction, learning effectiveness, scale, and access.
Habits for Success Make campus resources available to students through convocation, orientation and first-year seminars. Ensure they are aware of the GPA needed to maintain their status and the activities they must be involved to become an integral part of the university.
Big Goals, Small Steps Define goals and break them down by program, courses and department. That is the ideal path for universities to develop effective ways to encompass the entire institution in reaching those goals.
Data Collection In order to effectively address student retention, universities should gather information on program effectiveness, student achievement, and resource allocation, as well as understanding the characteristics and behaviors of students who are likely to fail. This is the sort of data that can enhance student retention efforts in a more insightful way.
Intervention Programs Reach out to at-risk students before they leave the university. Learning analytics solutions are a great way to find students who are experiencing academic, personal, financial or social challenges and offer timely help.
Student Success Goals When a university establishes a shared vision of student success, it becomes easier for students to understand what is expected of them and move forward to achieve it. At the same time, it also allows the institution to allocate and organize resources to support them in their journey.


Illustration: Outcomes

Improving student retention levels is the greatest outcome a university can expect after understanding the challenges and available solutions. Here are some examples:

Record retention rate: After using learning analytics solutions, Concordia University – Wisconsin found out they needed to improve the relationships between faculty and students, as well as how to better support students with mental health needs. Their retention rate increased from 72% to 82% in one year only
 Low dropout rate: At UNAB Chile, the development of a Comprehensive Support Model has drastically increased student retention. Their current dropout rate is between 3% to 4% only.
Improving retention with analytics: At Lewis & Clark Community College, there was a 17% improvement in student retention with the use of learning analytics tools.
Early interventions: Through the application of a predictive model, professors, instructors and student advisors at Ulster University were able to make early interventions at the first signs of student struggle.
Increased course completion and term-to-term retention rates: Through the use of analytics, Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) was able to increase course completion rates from 65% to 72% and term-to-term retention rates from 69% to 83%.
Online enrollment growth: At Indian River State College, online program enrollments grew by 56% between 2014 and 2016, due to insights gathered from learning analytics tools.


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Blackboard Student Services | Student Retention. (n.d.). Retrieved from Best Practice: Increase Student Retention. (n.d.). Retrieved from Student Retention | Retention Strategies & Services | Blackboard. (n.d.). Retrieved from McAughtrie, D. (2016, June 8). Student Retention – 10 Effective Strategies. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from Isabel, S. (2018, March 28). Main factors that affect student retention in higher education. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from Retention and student success: Implementing strategies that make a difference. (n.d.). Retrieved from–Implementing-strategies-that-make-a-difference/. Trei, L. (2007, February 07). Fixed versus growth intelligence mindsets: It’s all in your head, Dweck says. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from Tissot, L. (2018, February 13). Concordia University Wisconsin How to Achieve a Record Retention Rate. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from Pulido, S. (2018, April 19). Comprehensive Support: The Key to Reducing Student Desertion. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from Bothwell, E. (2017, February 16). How student completion rates vary across Europe. Retrieved May 11, 2018, from

Dropout and Completion in Higher Education in Europe[PDF]. (2015). European Commission. Atlas, C. (2018, January 09). U.S. College Dropout Rate | College Statistics. Retrieved from U-Planner. (n.d.). | Retención. Retrieved fromón. Muzinaga, F., Cifuentes, M., & Beltrán, A. (2018, May 7). Retención y Abandono Estudiantil en la Educación Superior Universitaria en América Latina y el Caribe: Una Revisión Sistemática[PDF]. Archivos analíticos de políticas educativas. Castro, D., Rodríguez-Gómez, D., & Gairín, J. (2017). Exclusion Factors in Latin American Higher Education: A Preliminary Analyze From University Governing Board Perspective[PDF]. Barcelona, Spain: Education and Urban Society. Latin America doubles students in higher education, but inequality persists. (2017, June 05). Retrieved May 11, 2018, from Gumede, M. (n.d.). Universities put focus on high drop-out rate. Retrieved from Marioulas, J. (2017). China: A World Leader in Graduation Rates[PDF]. Boston, Massachusetts: International Higher Education – A Quarterly Publication. Zigunovas, P. (2018, May 02). What Instructor and Student Behavior Can Tell Us. Retrieved May 11, 2018, from How Lewis & Clark Community College Uses Analytics to Diagnose, Understand and Improve Student Retention[PDF]. (n.d.). Blackboard Inc.

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