Final straw events cause drop outs

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Depression and loss of financial aid may cause college students to consider dropping out, but a death in the family doesn’t have a significant impact.

More than 40 percent of college students in the United States fail to get a bachelor’s degree within six years at the college where they began, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Knowing the risks that prompt students to consider quitting could help in reversing college withdrawal.

“Prior to this work, little was known about what factors in a student’s everyday life prompt them to think about withdrawing from college,” says Tim Pleskac, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State

“We now have a method to measure what events are ‘shocking’ students and prompting them to think about quitting.

“From an institutional perspective,” he adds, “we are now better suited to think about what students we should target in terms of counseling or other assistance to help them work through these issues.”

The study is reported online in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Pleskac developed a mathematical model describing how students decide to quit and used it to analyze surveys from 1,158 freshmen at 10 U.S. colleges and universities.

The surveys listed 21 critical events (or shocks) and asked students whether these events had happened to them during the previous semester. The students were later asked whether they planned to withdraw.

The critical event with the most influence was depression. Other factors included being recruited by an employer or another institution; losing financial aid, experiencing a large increase in tuition or living costs; unexpected bad grade; and roommate conflicts.

Factors that had less of an impact included a death in the family; significant injury; inability to enter their intended major; becoming addicted to a substance; coming into a large sum of money; losing a job needed to pay tuition; and becoming engaged  or married.

Previous research has studied the role critical events play in employee turnover decisions, but this is the first study to examine the phenomenon with college withdrawal.

“Traditionally the problems of employee turnover and college student attrition have been viewed from different lenses,” says Jessica Keeney, a project researcher and doctoral student in psychology.

“But we see a lot of similarities in how employees and students decide to quit. A ‘shocking’ event, such as a clash with a co-worker or roommate, could be the final factor that pushes someone to leave.”

Researchers from Rice University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis contributed to the study, that was funded by the College Board.

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