Why College Students are Dropping Out in 2021

College administrators have presented the main reasons why college students are dropping out during a global pandemic.

Becky Heeney, University of Oklahoma’s assistant provost for Student Success, said that the top three reasons the department sees students drop out, are related to financial issues, social issues, and academics.

“We kind of call that our three-legged stool,” Heeney said. “It goes finances, then social, then academics. Those are the three major things we see constantly over and over again.”
Heeney said that now as college students are attending school during a pandemic, the regular financial and social issues have only increased.

“Right now, we have a good number of students that are dealing with anxiety, stress, and mental health issues, some pandemic related,” Heeney said. “If they had those issues coming into OU, the pandemic has just exacerbated it.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, graduation rates for degree competition at a four-year postsecondary institution was 62% based on a study in 2018.

Since the uprise of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, these undergraduate enrollment numbers have been affected.

Studies conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center bring attention to the unprecedented enrollment trends caused by the pandemic.

By the end of the fall 2020 semester, studies showed a decline of 2.5% in overall postsecondary enrollments.

Oklahoma showed a 2.5% decrease in undergraduate enrollment for the fall 2020 semester.

Spring 2021 undergraduate enrollment studies show numbers are continuing to decline.

As of March 25, 2021, overall postsecondary enrollment is reported to be down by 5.9%. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center describes this to be the most significant decline since the pandemic began.

Oklahoma institutions also saw a continued decline of 4.4% in enrollment for this semester. Former Oklahoma college students, due to withdrawal, have depicted the top three reasons OU’s Heeney has seen students leave.

Mykayla Bowser, a former University of Oklahoma student said the social aspect of OU is what pushed her towards withdrawing.

“Being away from my family really got to my mental health,” Bowser said. “As fun as OU was, being away from my family and not really having much to do other than go to class then back to my dorm, really made me struggle with my mental health.”

Mykayla Bowser wore the shirt she received when she applied for OU.
Mykayla Bowser wore the shirt she received when she applied to OU while she talked about her withdrawal process.
PHOTO: Brianna Brown

Students who are now attending school during the pandemic, are facing similar issues that Bowser faced her first semester.

Due to the pandemic, many freshman students have been forced to take their first semester of college completely online while living on campus. Deahdra Broades, a former University of Central Oklahoma student, said that her mental health played a huge part in her decisions to withdraw. Broades said she emphasizes with current college students enrolled during the pandemic.

“I imagine that it’s a lot harder to do online classes,” Broades said. “I didn’t really have the motivation while I was there on the campus, so I can’t imagine having the motivation and not having to actually go to the school every day.”

Many parents losing their jobs during the first wave of the pandemic in March of 2020, has also affected the financial status of current college students.

Joshua Braggs, a former Oklahoma State University student, said the main reason for him leaving university was related to financial issues.

Braggs’s mother was temporarily laid off from her job before the pandemic started.

Braggs’s mother was then laid off permanently during the rise of the pandemic.

Braggs said that when his mother lost her job, his scholarships were not able to cover his costs.

“Corona happened,” Braggs said. “They laid her off again because of the pandemic and she had all the money to pay for it, but we couldn’t do it.”

Heeney said that keeping students in school is her main priority at the end of the day.

“My job is centered around making sure any student who is struggling is given resources,” Heeney said. “Student success is my main priority and goal.”

According to Heeney, one of the most underutilized resources for students is the academic life coaching program. The program pairs students up with a qualified coaching mentor, who meets with them on a regular basis during the semester.

The student and coaching mentor collaborate to recognize stressors and set goals that contribute to academic achievement.

OU students can request a coaching mentor for free through the OU Academic Life Coaching website.

Joshua Braggs “Josh”, a former Oklahoma State University talked about his personal reasons for withdrawing from University. Becky Heeney, OU’s assistant provost for Student Success talked about the top reasons college students give when withdrawing.

VIDEO: Brianna Brown

Mykayla Bowser, a former University of Oklahoma student talked about how her decision to withdraw had nothing to do with the university itself, but rather personal issues.

VIDEO: Brianna Brown

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