New Report Seeks to Answer Why Students Leave School and How to Get Them Back

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Considering the steep declines in enrollment amid the coronavirus pandemic, institutions and higher education stakeholders see the importance now more than ever to re-engage students who have left school without finishing.

A new study from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) along with education company Straighterline seeks to better understand the disengaged student population and analyze the reasons and motivations behind their decisions to leave school, as well as provide recommendations to get students to re-enroll.

The survey aims to answer four key questions: ​​“Who leaves college? Why do they leave? Who comes back? How do we get them back?” StraighterLine Chief Learning Officer Amy Smith said in a release.

A disengaged learner for the purpose of this study is defined as a student who enrolled in a college or university and unenrolled before completing their degree. The study of adult learners aged 20-34 years old analyzed the responses from 1,021 respondents.

Notably, women made up the majority of students who stopped going to college before earning their degree. And a majority of disengaged learners are working adults that have an income of $50,000 or less.

Overall, financial reasons were cited as the top reason for why students left school. Among all respondents across all demographics, 42% reported stopping out of college for financial reasons, while 32% said they left because of family or personal commitments.

“Families are more financially fragile and students have greater challenges. If we don't act or anticipate this, they'll not only disengage, but they will become disenfranchised with higher education,"  said Jim Fong, chief research officer and director of the Center for Research and Strategy at UPCEA.

Offering certificates for credits earned was overwhelmingly cited as the top way colleges and universities could re-engage students who stopped out, with 70% of respondents identifying it as the top factor. More than 60% said institutions could lower the price of courses, and 55% said institutions could provide counseling. Other retention strategies and tactics include providing workshops to address struggles and concierge services to help students. 

The study also noted that younger students are far more likely to return to school than older students.

“It is imperative that institutions cultivate meaningful connections to their students from the moment they enter the enrollment funnel. Life happens, students disengage. In this increasingly competitive marketplace, it is essential that institutions have an established relationship and tactics of engagement with their disengaged learners to bring them back,” Fong added. 


Publication Date: 12/16/2021

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