Why 60% of College Students Don’t Graduate Within 4 Years

If you’ve spent a lot of time with my book or other work, you’re getting tired of hearing this statistic, but bear with me for the new folks:

  • 60% of American college students don’t graduate within 4 years

  • 40% of American college students don’t graduate within 6 years (many of this group drop out)

Why on earth is this happening? There are a lot of pet theories out there, and I want to debunk them… and then help us understand why it’s actually happening. Because knowing, as they say, is half the battle (you’re showing your age or anachronism if you know the reference there).

Some popular but incorrect theories about the American drop-out rate

  1. Students just don’t care that much. This is plausibly true for some subset of the population, I’m sure. Some students are going to go through the motions of getting into college… but the barrier to entry is very high. The application process is—at the very least—quite time-consuming, and the time, financial, social, and other commitments are very high. It’s not something that one stumbles into, and thus it doesn’t make sense that most or many students just don’t really care.

  2. Students aren’t smart enough. If this was true, it would suggest that American colleges have an abysmal (and progressively worsening) admissions process. It would mean a staggering epidemic of incompetence in admissions offices all across the country, in which colleges couldn’t identify talent and weren’t learning from it. Anecdotally, a number of the folks I know that dropped out showed up with straight A’s and near-perfect SAT’s out of high school. It just doesn’t add up.

  3. The cost is too high. This is certainly a problem in American secondary education, but not the one I want to address here. If this was the cause of people quitting school, it would require that students and their families go through a few potential thought processes that seem to me unlikely:

    1. They don’t realize at all how expensive it will be when they join.

    2. They commit to the cost and then balk after paying half of it.

    3. They decide the cost yet to pay is too high even though it goes down every year (because they’ve paid that year’s already or have already incurred the loan).

College is expensive but it’s almost always very clear what your loan and aid package will look like, and families aren’t going to wait for a few years before considering these costs seriously. Obviously this wouldn’t explain at all why students graduate late.

There are a few more out there, but these are the ones I’ve heard most.

But if they don’t explain it, what does? How can smart, well-intentioned students struggle or drop out at such a high rate?

American high schools don’t teach good work habits

College is a big departure from high school in a lot of ways—the skills that made you successful in high school are insufficient in college… and nobody’s bothered to teach you those latter skills. Here are a few examples of what’s different:

  1. In high school, assignments are fairly rote and activity-based (“do math problems 1-6”)—in college, they’re more results-based, vague, and take more varied amounts of time (“prove that such-and-such an equation is true”)

  2. In high school, you tend to be rewarded for effort—in college, professors have stopped caring about how hard you work and care only about your results

  3. In high school, your assignments are short and frequent—in college, you get assignments that are due months out and take well to procrastination

  4. In high school, schedules are straightforward and structured—in college, they’re all over the place

  5. In high school, your parents are there to kick you into finishing your work—in college, you suddenly need to discipline yourself

  6. In college, you have just plain more work you’re expected to get through

  7. In college, you have a whole lot more temptations, distractions, and options to use your time

It’s pretty daunting, when we think about it. We aren’t taught in high school how to work in the college environment. It’s no wonder that students that succeeded in high school suddenly find themselves floundering!

It may sound dismal, but this is actually great news.

The implication: This statistic can change if we teach these skills

If it’s a lack of specific working habits and skills that are holding smart, motivated students back from succeeding, then to succeed, all they have to do is learn those skills.

Most students that are struggling take it very personally. They believe they’re not smart enough, not disciplined enough, or are otherwise personally deficient. It’s just not true. Over and over again, I’ve helped my peers and other protégés make academic 180-degree turns through coaching them through a few simple skills and methods for working more effectively.

Though our college students aren’t yet taught these skills, they’re easy. The kinds of folks that are of the academic caliber for the American college system are also of the caliber to learn these skills and methods… and thrive with them.

So in the end, we can change these miserable statistics. We can radically change how American college students work by teaching the habits and skills that are missing.

And it’ll have bigger implications: more sleep, less stress, better grades. More academic and extracurricular opportunities. Happier students. Earlier graduation—and less debt.

This is the Crush College mission—to teach students these simple skills as quickly and effectively as possible. The book, How to Crush College, is just the beginning.

About efogg

CEO of MidTide Media Curator and Considerate at http://www.somethingtoconsidermovement.com Blogger at http://www.foggofwar.com
This entry was posted in Balance, How to Crush College and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why 60% of College Students Don’t Graduate Within 4 Years

  1. Pingback: Some Advice for Parents of College Students: It’s About Incentives | The Crush College Blog

  2. Pingback: How we Pay for College May be Changing–But Don’t Hold your Breath | The Crush College Blog

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