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College Dropouts Linked to Preparedness More Than Effort

There is no one simple answer to the question: Why do students drop out of college? But a new study from the University of Western Ontario tries to shed new light.

The study, "Learning About Academic Ability and the College Drop-Out Decision," found that 40 percent of low-income U.S. college students who left a four-year college program did so because of poor academic performance, despite the students' feeling they were prepared.

The researchers, Todd Stinebrickner, an economics professor at the University of Western Ontario, and his father, Ralph Stinebrickner, a professor emeritus at Berea College in Kentucky, found many university students were overly optimistic about their likely performance their first semester. After being disappointed with low grades, nearly half dropped out. It was not a matter of trying hard enough, but likely the institution was not a good match for them academically, the long-term panel study of students from low-income families found.

The authors suggest new policies be put in place that target individuals at much younger ages to better prepare them for a high-quality postsecondary education, especially for those who choose to study math or science. They caution that the study findings cast doubt on policies aimed at encouraging more incoming university students to major in math and science, and efforts should shift from recruitment to better preparation of high school students in these subjects.

Other studies I've blogged about from Texas and Michigan have reported an unexpected bad grade can be a factor that leads to dropping out, along with loss of financial aid, concerns about student debt, an increase in tuition, depression, roommate conflicts, and recruitment by an employer or another institution.

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