Education and Skills

More students are dropping out of college in the US – here’s why

Seventeen percent of US college students plan dropping out of college this autumn.

Seventeen percent of US college students plan dropping out of college this autumn. Image: Unsplash/Charles DeLoye

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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United States

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  • Seventeen percent of US college students don’t plan to return in the autumn, a survey shows.
  • The strong jobs market and rising costs are some of the reasons given for dropping out of college.
  • Some students say they can’t afford tuition or regular living expenses, while others want to start a business.
  • The US government has announced plans for a targeted debt relief programme to “address the harms of the pandemic”, which includes lower income students.

Getting an education is said to be our passport to the future. But, since the pandemic, it seems more US college students are choosing the university of life.

So why are more US students quitting further education? Possibly as a result of the hot jobs market and rising costs, new data suggests.

Seventeen percent of students enrolled in college say they’re dropping out of college after this semester, according to education website Intelligent.com.

Its survey of 1,250 undergraduate students expected to graduate in 2023 found another 19% of students aren’t sure if they’ll return to college this autumn.

Of the students surveyed, 46% expect to return to the college they’re enrolled at and the remaining 18% are switching to a different college.

17% of college students in the US say they plan dropping out of college after this semester.
17% of college students in the US say they plan dropping out of college after this semester. Image: Intelligent.com

Jobs boom is magnet for students

Workers are in high demand in the US and 31% of students dropping out of college after this term say it’s to find a job.

Another 31% say they’re quitting college because they’re not sure what they want to study.

These students may decide to “stop investing time and money into a degree they might not actually want, and find a job while the getting is good,” Intelligent.com suggests.

The rising cost of living is the reason 29% of students say they’re not returning to college. They “can’t afford regular living expenses due to inflation,” the survey authors say.

Mental and physical health issues, not being able to afford tuition and the impact of COVID-19 on college life are some of the other main reasons for quitting.

Online students are “slightly more likely” than students attending in-person classes or a mix of both to say they’re dropping out of college after this term.

Getting a job and unaffordable living expenses are among the reasons US students are dropping out of college.
Getting a job and unaffordable living expenses are among the reasons US students are dropping out of college. Image: Intelligent.com

Some students want to be entrepreneurs

Starting a business is the ambition among 28% of students quitting college. These young entrepreneurs plan to “follow in the footsteps of famous college dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates,” Intelligent.com suggests.

Another 26% of students quitting college plan to start working full-time.

Some students dropping out of college also plan to continue their education in other ways, such as through computer coding bootcamps or trade schools.

Almost 30% of students dropping out of college want to start their own business.
Almost 30% of students dropping out of college want to start their own business. Image: Intelligent.com

To return, or not?

Most students quitting college this autumn think they might return one day to finish their degrees. Of the students surveyed, 36% said this was ‘very likely’.

Another third of students planning to drop out of college said going back to college was ‘somewhat likely’. The rest ruled out returning to college.

More than a third of students dropping out of college plan to return at some point in the future.
More than a third of students dropping out of college plan to return at some point in the future. Image: Intelligent.com

Why is the US job market so strong?

There were 10.7 million job vacancies in the US at the end of June and 1.8 openings for every unemployed person, according to a Reuters news report on latest employment data from the US Department of Labor.

Unemployment in the US is “hovering at 50-year lows”, the BBC says, and all 22 million jobs lost in the US when the pandemic started have now been regained.

In March, employers in the US had a record number of job openings – 11.5 million – while 4.5 million people quit their jobs, according to news site US News.

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Rising prices are squeezing students

At the same time, rising prices are making it harder for college students to afford tuition fees.

Colleges and universities are raising the cost of tuition and other fees for costs like housing and meal plans between about 2% and almost 5%, an analysis published by news channel NBC News and compiled by educational journalism organization The Hechinger Report finds.

Rising prices for fuel, food and housing pushed inflation to a 40-year high of 9.1% in the US in June, the BBC notes.

America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, is trying to slow rising prices by increasing interest rates – the cost of borrowing – which have gone up four times since March.

For students, higher interest rates mean the cost of financial products like student loans also increases. In August, President Biden announced a three-part debt relief programme to “address the harms of the pandemic”, which includes plans to cancel $10,000 of student debt for low- to middle-income borrowers.

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Related topics:
Education and SkillsJobs and the Future of Work
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