College confidence: Why 40% of students are thinking about withdrawing

A new report reveals the two biggest factors driving indecision and uncertainty among families.

Despite knowing how valuable a college degree is to their future employability and success, nearly 40% of students during the past year have considered leaving their institutions, according to a new report released by GradGuard and College Pulse.

The 2022 College Confidence Index cites cost and affordability as two of the top factors weighing on students, but mental health and other academic challenges are also on the list of reasons why they have entertained dropping out. An astounding 68% of students said they know someone who did not make it to completion.

The good news for institutions of higher education in this report of 2,000 students, parents and other family members is that the overwhelming majority of those attending college (83%) believe that “they will earn enough money to make the cost of college worth it.” More than 93% are at least somewhat confident they will get the right job after graduation. That sentiment was not shared quite as robustly by parents—60% of whom see postsecondary education as a good return on investment—although two-thirds feel it will land them a good position.

However, the question remains: Will they be able to make it to that degree? Nearly 65% of parents were not confident that could afford a four-year college education. Nearly the same percentage of students, including the majority who received financial aid, also were uncertain about cost. Numbers also were exacerbated for two-year students—47% have considered withdrawing and only 53% see the value of their college education. That led to an overall College Confidence Index of just 46.1 points out of 100.

“It is critical to better understand the confidence of the nearly 20 million students and parent consumers have in making a substantial investment in education,” John Fees, co-founder and managing director of GradGuard, said. “This year’s report is a timely reminder that college life is not risk-free and that they are smart to protect their investment like other large consumer purchases.”

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Of those who have considered stopping out, there was a nearly even one-third split among financial issues and academic challenges. Health and family issues were other reasons cited for potential withdrawal. But the choice to do so was almost impossible for those who were entertaining the idea. “Most college students are worried about how they would be perceived if they were unable to finish their studies,” researchers said. “Nearly three-quarters say they would not consider withdrawing because it would make them look like a failure.”

While many studies have shown the struggles of students of color to attain at the same rate as whites and Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic, they and their families are among the most positive about the return on investment of higher education. “Nearly three-quarters of Hispanic/Latino students and a majority of Black and Asian students see a college education as a critical part of living a successful life,” researchers said. “In contrast, only about half of white students say the same.”

Where can colleges make a difference in preventing stop outs and students from withdrawing altogether? Strong financial aid advising teams can be critical. Of the most trusted sources in discussions about money and aid, students said they most likely would heed guidance from college aid officers (74%), even over the advice from their parents (72%), college admissions officers and personal finance websites.

Another area is mental health support. Like other studies that have shown students struggling with self-care during the pandemic, this one shows that 91% are facing anxiety or stress at least once a week. More than 80% have difficulty sleeping or eating disorders (77%), and nearly three-quarters are depressed. Colleges that can provide 24/7 access to care, either on-site or through telehealth providers, and are willing to promote it via faculty and a variety of channels can better ensure that students will want to remain at their institutions.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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