Community colleges are designed to make college more accessibleagain 6 out of 10 community college students cannot reap the full rewards of higher education because they do not graduate. For graduates, awards often include make more money. For society, the reward is citizens who are more likely to vote, volunteer and pay more taxes.
Among community college students who drop out, there are a few who are close to graduation. Nationally, about 10% of all students who leave college without a degree are just a few credits away from graduating. They are also the most likely to re-enroll and graduate. Some colleges attempt to identify former students and persuade them to return using a variety of methods this includes Data analysis and tuition discounts.
However, using these tools is not always easy. Community college students who leave early rarely tell school administrators why they left. If colleges heard directly from students about why they drop out, schools could help them with targeted resources. Or, better yet, they might be able to prevent students from dropping out in the first place.
In our recent peer-reviewed study, we contacted more than 27,000 alumni from five large, diverse community colleges in Florida who had left in the previous four years without a degree. They had stopped taking classes despite a C average or better and at least half the credits needed for an associate’s degree. We asked them to choose from a list of possible reasons for leaving. While researchers focused on questions of access and equity in community collegeswe’ve identified 11 of the most important reasons they gave.
Direct financial costs were the most common reasons for early exit from community colleges, even though colleges are generally more affordable than four-year schools. More than half of former students in our survey, 53%, said they left because of tuition and fees. Another 25% cited the cost of textbooks. Our results are consistent with previous studies of students at four-year colleges that found that students sometimes drop out of college due to an inability to pay tuition and fees.
Students sometimes drop out financial reasons that have nothing to do with school. For example, the cost of rent, utilities, health care, childcare, and food may simply be too much to bear besides going to school. This is reflected in the 48% of former students who told us living expenses were a reason they left early.
Just under 43% of students told us they left college because they were no longer eligible for financial aid. Students can lose support for a variety of reasons, such as failing to maintain their grades or not complete their degree fairly quickly.
One in five students is a parent, and nearly half of these students go to a community college. These students face many demands their time related to work and child care. Among leavers, 33% said they left because of unpredictable work and family obligations. Those aged 26 to 49 were twice as likely as younger and older students to say that unreliable child care contributed to their dropping out. Women of all ages were more than twice as likely as men to cite childcare difficulties.
Many community college students say they don’t know what they need to do to graduate. They also say that their school board is limited or impersonal. About 24% of former students quit school in part because they didn’t know what courses to take next.
About 16% of alumni said they couldn’t enroll due to a financial hold on their school account. However, our study was designed to not include students who had detentions that would prevent them from taking classes. This indicates that former students had incorrect information, which may be due to limited time with counselors or miscommunication. Hispanic and black former students were respectively two and three times more likely than white former students to say they could not enroll due to a financial blockage.
About 17% of all alumni said a health emergency contributed to their early exit. The percentage was even higher – over 20% – for those over 50.
Most part-time community college students work while in college. For this reason, changes in their working life may affect their ability to go to school. About 34% of all former students said they left school due to a move from part-time to full-time employment. About 15% left early due to a promotion and 13% left because they needed a second job. Conversely, 12% said they left early because they lost their job. Men were more likely than women – 22% to 13% – to say that a career change caused them to leave college before graduating.
Many community college students, for various reasons, are not prepared take college-level courses. Many struggle to meet math and science requirements. Indeed, 25% of former students told us that they left college because they found math and science classes too hard.
Students often leave university when they do not feel strong bond at school or in their community. Of the former students we surveyed, 11% said they left in part because they didn’t have many friends on campus, while 8% said they didn’t feel welcome on campus. campus.
Although we surveyed students before the COVID-19 pandemic, which campuses closed and much of the learning moved online, many former students indicated that factors related to internet access and online courses caused them to leave without a degree. About 25% of alumni cited difficulties learning on their own in an online environment. Another 24% said they did not have enough interaction with the online course instructor, and 9% said they did not have enough interaction with their peers in online courses . About 7% of all alumni and 11% of black alumni said unreliable internet access caused them to drop out of school.
Community college students who drop out of school for any period are significantly less likely to graduate than their peers who stay in school. To increase the number of students graduating, it would be beneficial for community colleges to seek to prevent students from leaving in the first place. We believe a few practices might help.
Targeted financial resources: Community colleges may wish to provide targeted financial aid to students who are close to graduating but lack financial aid. This last support may be what these students need to cross the finish line.
Better inform and advise: In order for students to better understand what courses they need to take to graduate — or if they are still eligible to take courses — community colleges need to ensure that all students have accurate information. This is particularly important for fair results for students from different backgrounds.
Enhance the online learning experience: Finally, for students to feel supported and connected to their instructors and peers, community colleges should continue to improve online course offerings. Community colleges with strong online offerings may be able to provide students with the flexibility they need to graduate because they are also working and taking care of their families.[More than 140,000 readers get one of The Conversation’s informative newsletters. Join the list today.]
Benjamin Skinnerassistant professor of higher education and politics, University of Florida; Justin OrtagusAssistant Professor of Higher Education Administration and Policy, University of Floridaand Melvin TannerSenior Research Analyst, Office of Institutional Planning and Research, University of Florida