Top 6 Reasons Adult College Students Drop Out

Despite the soaring cost of higher education, older adult students are apparently still keen on finishing their degrees. A recent survey showed that more than 8 million non-traditional students -- defined as those 23 and older -- are now enrolled in the nation's colleges.

However, far too many of them won't complete their courses of study and derive the benefits that come along with having earned a degree, which include a lifetime of higher earnings and greater self esteem.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that just slightly more than a quarter -- 28 percent -- of full-time and a mere 5 percent of part-time older students go on to finish their college studies.

What's holding them back? As the chart below shows, more than two-thirds of the nearly 4,500 non-traditional students surveyed by the Apollo Research Institute expressed concern about college-related expenses as a big contributor to dropping out.

About two-thirds of all college students borrow money to obtain a bachelor's degree, according to a survey of 2007-08 graduates by the Department of Education. Of those, the average debt in 2011 was $23,300, with 10 percent owing more than $54,000 and 3 percent more than $100,000, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently reported (via The New York Times). Tuition costs vary, but averaged $21,447 during the 2011-12 school year at public colleges, while private colleges charged an average of $42,224.

Beyond concern about paying for school, other big stress producers among adult students include anxiety about spending sufficient time with loved ones and friends and having the intellectual capacity to complete coursework, according to Apollo, which is affiliated with the for-profit University of Phoenix, one of the nation's largest issuers of online degrees. (The college, which operates in 40 states and internationally and gears its programs toward working adults, has been the subject of federal lawsuits and fines in recent years related to its enrollment practices and course offerings.)

Having a plan to deal with these sources of stress can go a long way toward helping older students finish college, says Caroline Molina-Ray, executive director of research at Apollo, which recently published a study that examined the factors that inhibit adult college students' ability to finish degrees.

The study focused not so much on the rate of completion, she says, but on what kinds of issues adult students face, and how different generations of students cope. It may sound cliched, but Molina-Ray says that it pays to keep "your eyes on the prize," and to remember that "there's a big personal and likely financial reward for going to school."

With that in mind, she offers these tips for a nontraditional student planning to pursue an associate, bachelor's or other degree:

  • Recognize that going back to school is a major life decision and takes commitment, similar to losing weight or getting married or looking for a job.
  • Make a plan for all of your resources -- finances, time, energy, family and friends. Once you know which resources you have and need, you can develop a strategy during the coming weeks and months to use those resources wisely.
  • Engage your family and friends in your effort to return to school, by making it meaningful and valuable for them, too. That may mean, for example, taking children to the library with you when doing research; doing your homework in the same space as your kids; and sharing what you've learned.
  • Learn which resources your college offers. Those include such things as tutorial services, online study aids and other resources, such as day care, that can help adult students better manage competing commitments to school, work and family.
  • Check to see if your school has online chat rooms that allow you to communicate with faculty.
  • Don't isolate yourself. Build a support network of classmates or co-workers who are also returning to school. Use social media sites, such as LinkedIn groups, to connect with others and share experiences and support.

"People are willing to help and are willing to serve as sounding boards," Molina-Ray says, "especially those who are going through the same experiences."




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11 Comments

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Swapna

Good one. I agree with you. They can try Online Learning. Online learning is extremely flexible, allowing students to learn when they want. This is great for students who have a full time job or have children and wouldn't be able to attend classes any other way. You will get much more one on one instruction in the distance learning course because you can always contact your instructor by email or video conference. Feacher India is offering an Online Course for Job seekers and graduates in which they get knowledge and work experience in more than 10 departments and it increases student’s employment prospects

July 30 2013 at 1:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pj512

One of the reasons not listed is fear that they still won't be able to find a job, even after spending thousands of dollars on an education. I know a lot of people with college degrees who either can't find jobs or are working at Target as a cashier. There are no guarantees in life. We've changed a lot from 1971 when I had three job offers with the federal government before I even graduated from high school.

August 13 2012 at 10:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
newbaku

Being a nontraditional college student carries many stressors and challenges, but you can do it! I went back to school (community college) at age 39, terrified that I would fail or look stupid among the "kids." I took ELEVEN YEARS to finish my general education, due to family responsibilities and the desire to take many extra classes that interested me. In 2007, at the age of 50, I was accepted to Stanford University (on a full scholarship) as one of 20 transfers--making me one of the oldest students to complete an undergraduate degree at Stanford. Last month, I finished my graduate degree in fiction-writing and in two weeks will be teaching at the same community college where I got my start. Do you want to go to college? GO! You can make that dream come true.

August 13 2012 at 10:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to newbaku's comment
pj512

Congratulations! I like hearing about success stories.

August 13 2012 at 10:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jonclong

I was a "non traditional" student. The biggest problem I had in getting my degree was putting up with all the PC correct, revisionist opinion that the college profs were trying to pass as fact. I felt sorry for the kids that went to college right out of high school, as they had no experience to help them weed out the BS from what actually happened. Tenure in schools (while originally an idea to help protect/keep the best teachers) has actually become the bastion of mediocrity in our educational system.

August 13 2012 at 9:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Charle

Colleges are much more interested in taking your money than having a student successfully complete his education . To fix this situation a percentage of tuition should be put in escrow until the student completes the degree program . If the student does not get to completion the escrow amount should go to reduce the out standing student loans .

August 13 2012 at 9:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ebreit19

My nontraditional students were some of the best students I ever taught and enjoyed having them in class very much...

August 13 2012 at 9:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Optimum

I am older than most others that have gone back to school. I had three years, but wanted to get that degree. I was stunned at what the university was teaching students. Their classes are so biased politically that they are off course of reality. I lived through most of the things taught in sociology and politely made statements--sometimes I had even been there when it happened. What really happened was NOT what was even in the books. Of course, my know-it-all sociology professor was upset with me and I had to change my subjects. I still become angry just talking about it. How DARE professors teach their own political views! How DARE they.

August 13 2012 at 5:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Optimum's comment
cgjb87

I completely agree with you. I had the same situation. I am over 50 years old and I realize that being a non-traditional is a sword that cuts both ways.

February 03 2013 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
UCLOVES

I totally understand why some who return to school quit shortly thereafter. I recently went back to school to pursue my degree and wanted to quit the first week. It is a major committment and if you are working full-time and have a family well I'll just say I understand this article but I am so glad I didn't quit and "kept my eyes on the prize". Getting others involved does help at first I didn't want my co-workers or family to know I was back in school in case I didn't do well or had to quit but I tell you they have been a major help now that they know it's like I have someone to answer to, they ask me how school is going and help to inspire me and some of them I don't even like lol. Getting a good support does help My math class after not attending high school in 25+ years made me cry, I went to my neice who would be entering college that fall and asked for her and she was a blessing. I still didn't pass my math course but have been getting B's in my other courses I realized math is not my strong suit so i'll get some tutoring before tackling that course again but I will not give up. So if this is something you really want you have to keep focus and keep moving if that means cutting down your courses to one a semester do what you have to do cause there's nothing in life like regret..

August 13 2012 at 2:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to UCLOVES's comment
cgjb87

I too am suffering with math. I also cried in the middle of a midterm exam. I am still working on the math (which is the only subject keeping me from getting my degree).

February 03 2013 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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