Study of dropout factors may improve policies, plans

Katrina Tollin

Students most frequently withdraw from universities because of depression and a loss of financial aid, according to a study led by researchers at Michigan State University.

The report was funded by the College Board, a nonprofit organization that creates standardized tests including the SAT and AP tests. Other significant factors contributing to student withdrawal found in the report include recruitment by another job or institution, an unexpected bad grade, roommate conflicts and a raise in tuition or living expenses.

“Identifying these specific events can help universities decide what type of services to provide,” said Jessica Keeney, a psychology doctoral student at Michigan State University and co-author of the report.

About 20 percent of entering UT freshmen in 2004 did not complete their degree within six years, compared with the national average of 43 percent, according to data from the UT Office of Information Management and Analysis and the National Center for Education Statistics, respectively.

By knowing what causes students to drop out, universities can improve their policies, said Tim Pleskac, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University and lead researcher for the report. For example, to avoid a student being shocked by a bad course grade, making grades available online can help that student track their progress, he said.

“We have a better sense of what factors get people thinking about quitting,” Pleskac said.

The study, which was released last month, surveyed 1,200 enrolled students from 10 universities and was based on previous research on the influence of precipitating events or shocks that influence withdrawal, Pleskac said.
UT Student Financial Services director Tom Melecki said OSFS tries to reduce unexpected financial pressures on students.

“We try to make a commitment to a student for the full school year,” Melecki said.

Students may lose financial aid from one year to the next as a result of a poor GPA or failure to adhere to rules of the program. These students have the option of appealing if they experienced a hardship that affected their academic performance, Melecki said.

Jane Morgan Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said counselors help students decide the best plan for their situation and that may include dropping out when their academic work is negatively impacting their mental health.

“We [work] with the student collaboratively to come up with a plan of action,” Bost said.