Understanding the Factors Behind College Completion

May 20, 2024

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Title: How America Completes College: Understanding What Helps Students Graduate

Source: Sallie Mae

The second edition of Sallie Mae’s How America Completes College 2024 report examines undergraduate students’ current experiences and obstacles to graduating. The study provides valuable insights into the factors contributing to student success and the obstacles leading to non-completion.

The report found a correlation between mental health and the decision to leave college. At-risk students often rate their mental health lower compared to on-track students. A considerable proportion of first-generation college students face challenges in prioritizing mental health and adjusting to living away from home.

Other key findings include:

  • A quarter of current undergraduates have seriously considered dropping out and face a higher risk of not completing their degree. Students who are the first in their family to attend college are twice as likely (41 percent) to have seriously considered dropping out compared to their peers (18 percent).
  • The study finds notable differences in demographics and behaviors between at-risk and on-track students.
    • Hispanic and Black students are overrepresented among those at risk of not completing their degree.
    • Students who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to be at risk.
    • At-risk students are more likely to come from lower-income backgrounds and work longer hours at off-campus jobs.
    • Two-year institutions have a higher proportion of at-risk students compared to their on-track peers.
    • Students at risk of not completing their degree are nearly three times more likely to have transferred schools.
  • Nearly three in five (58 percent) first-generation college students found it challenging to prioritize mental health, while one-fourth of first-generation college students rated living away from home as difficult.
  • Financial challenges, changes in motivation, and mental health issues are the top reasons at-risk students have considered leaving school.
  • Students who are on track to graduate tend to have committed to their college path early on and engaged in proactive financial planning.
  • Forty-five percent of the non-completers surveyed have concrete plans to reenroll in college within the next five years.

The report highlights the importance of early planning, maximizing financial aid opportunities, and providing support for students’ mental well-being. It emphasizes the urgent need for institutions to assist students in finding a balance between the pressures of college life and self-care. It underscores that many students grapple with certain social aspects of the college experience and find it difficult to prioritize their mental health, a crucial aspect of their overall well-being and academic success.

By addressing these key areas, higher education institutions can help more students overcome the hurdles they face and successfully complete their degrees. The report also emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach that considers the diverse experiences and backgrounds of students, particularly those who are the first in their family to attend college. By working together to provide the necessary resources and support, higher education can create an environment that fosters student success and helps more individuals achieve their academic goals.

Click here to read the full report.

—Alex Zhao and Ngan Nguyen

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