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Understanding the reasons behind leaving school: How InsideTrack turns would-be dropouts into college graduates

College can mean improved career opportunities and greater earning potential, as well as the chance to become a more educated and well-rounded person. But starting college is no guarantee of finishing and earning a degree. So why do students stop attending college?

The insights we’ve learned from coaching millions of students since 2001 have pointed us to some surprising findings. For starters, academics aren’t always the primary reason students leave school. In reality, a complex set of factors about what goes on outside the classroom can determine higher ed success. That’s why InsideTrack coaching supports students through academic and non-academic challenges — because even a problem that has nothing to do with school can keep someone from showing up ready to learn and succeed.

These stories go behind the statistics to reveal what InsideTrack Coaches are doing to help keep students in school.

Tapping into the power of community

We found that trouble connecting to the school community is the number one reason why traditional students leave college. When a student attends a university, they want to belong to that community, and they do so through everything from student government and athletics to religious affiliation, clubs, organizations, and volunteer opportunities, not to mention connecting with their peers in class. But what if the higher ed experience isn’t what they expected?

Zachary, for example, was a first-generation college student with no idea how to navigate the university system or where to go for support. Even though it was the school of his dreams, he was ready to drop out after just a few months. Enter Dan, his InsideTrack Coach.

Dan helped Zachary get connected to the school community — one of the major focus areas of InsideTrack coaching. First up was plugging him into a university program specifically for first-generation students. Dan also encouraged Zachary to use tutoring, reach out to professors and stay in touch with his campus contact for first-generation students. By the time the term was over, Zachary was on track in his classes, planning for his sophomore year and ready to declare a major.

Finding the balance between school and life

With non-traditional students, managing commitments tops the list of reasons for dropping out and not completing their degree. When the work-school-life balance becomes unmanageable, something has to give. Too often, that something is college.

For Susan, heading back to school at age 63 — more than 40 years after high school — meant creating a step-by-step plan. Enrolling in a local community college. Finishing her degree. Launching a new career in medical billing and coding. But like all the best laid plans, there were some bumps along the way, including caring full-time for a relative who had just moved in. As her home — and her schedule — became more crowded, Susan opted for online courses, but worried about trading convenience for the personal school community she craved.

Fortunately for Susan, her college partners with InsideTrack to increase persistence for underrepresented students. Susan told her coach, Casey, that procrastination would be a problem for her. So Casey helped her carve out time every day that was dedicated as “class time.” In addition, tech resources and a tutoring center helped Susan stay connected. Working in tandem with her coach, Susan recharged her routine. Yet one challenge remained: Susan’s sense of isolation from the rest of her classmates. With the support of Casey, her professor and her advisor, Susan was able to switch to an on-campus version of one of her courses — creating a classroom experience where she could thrive and propel herself closer to a new career.

Putting a price on education

It’s no surprise that finances are often listed as being a key barrier to remaining in school. Higher education often comes with a high price tag, creating a sense of anxiety when students start to get the bills.

Ann went back to school with the goal of getting an apartment for herself and her young son. After 18 years at the same job, she was laid off and living with a friend. Unemployed for nearly a year, she decided to boost her marketability, so she enrolled in a college course in office administration to improve her computer skills. When she first met with her advisor, who was trained in coaching strategies by InsideTrack, the financial pressures were clearly weighing on her. Ann’s advisor listened intently to her story and then created a plan to help.

Thanks to her advising sessions, Ann found after-school daycare for her son and an eligible work-training program that covered the cost of her tuition — all because Ann had taken the time to seek one-on-one help from an advisor who knew to ask about her life outside the classroom.

Student names have been changed.

To learn more about how insights like this can help your institution deliver better outcomes to your students, talk to a coach.

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