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

Blog Post created by manurivl on Mar 28, 2019

Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Jul 31, 2018


Students are dropping out of higher education 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 enrolled.


Some Graduation and Dropout Rates Around the Globe


In the U.S., 30% of higher education students drop out before completing their first year and 60% never graduate.

In Latin America, only 50% of higher education students ages 25 to 29 finish their studies.

In Europe, completion rates vary from 53% to 83%.

In South Africa, 47.9% of all university students do not complete their studies.

With an average of 97.3%, China has one of the highest graduation rates in the world.


What is Causing Students to Leave Higher Education?

1.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.


2. 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.


3. Academic Difficulties due to Unclear Expectations 

Students often don’t have a clear understanding of the institution’s academic and behavioral expectations.


4. 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.


5. 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.


6. Psychological-Related Illnesses and Learning Disabilities

Substance abuse, attention/hyperactivity disorders, and autism spectrum disorders are some of the most common psychological/psychiatric issues students face today. Learning disabilities can also have an impact as many students are not professionally diagnosed or hesitate to reach out to university staff to get help.


How Institutions Can Keep Students Enrolled

  • 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. This way, universities can develop effective ways to include 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 spot 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 reach towards those goals. At the same time, it also allows the institution to allocate and organize resources to support them in their journey.


  • Academic Advising

Advisors who are helpful, knowledgeable and accessible to students in need are essential in supporting campus programs focused on student success and improving retention rates.




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


  • Record retention rate: Upon using learning analytics solutions, Concordia University – Wisconsin discovered it needed to improve faculty-student relationships, 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: Lewis & Clark Community College experienced 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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