Undergraduate college students enrolled primarily in online classes are four percent more likely not to return to classes this fall compared to students who attend in-person classes or who have hybrid schedules, according to a survey by Intelligent.com, an online magazine centered around helping students make informed choices about their college education.
The survey, released today (May 9), examines trends in college drop out rates as colleges and universities continue to grapple with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 26% of students who started college in fall 2019 didn’t return for fall 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Center’s Persistence and Retention Report, the biggest decline in returning students since 2012. The question for university administrators: Was this due solely to the pandemic, or the start of a new trend as students look for opportunities in a buzzing economy?
“The hot labor market, with employers desperately seeking workers and offering higher pay and perks to attract them, has been a dominant news story for the past year. Current college students appear to be paying attention,” Intelligent.com’s survey report reads. “Among students who are dropping out of college after this term, 31% say it’s because they want to take advantage of the current high number of job openings and secure employment.”
ONLINE STUDENTS MORE LIKELY TO DROP OUT
While many colleges and universities have returned to in-person classrooms as pandemic restrictions ease, the switch to online platforms provided schools and students with greater flexibility to choose how they engage with higher education. However, Intelligent.com’s survey shows that 41% of students enrolled in online classes reported that they weren’t returning to school come fall or weren’t sure whether they would return. Another 20% planned to transfer to another school. Just 39% reported that they planned to return to the same school next academic year.
That compares to 49% each of in-person and hybrid schedule students who plan to return to their school next year. Meanwhile, 16% of in-person students plan to drop out next year and another 16% are unsure compared to 16% of hybrid students who will drop out and 19% who are unsure.
⅓ OF COLLEGE STUDENTS MAY NOT RETURN
Intelligent.com surveyed 1,250 current undergraduate students expected to graduate in 2023 or later to gauge how re-enrollment rates might look this upcoming term. Among the key findings:
- 17% of enrolled students plan to drop out after this semester with another 19% unsure whether they will return. That’s 36%, or about one third of current students, who may not return. This compares to a previous Intelligent.com survey that found that about 20% of college graduates said the cost of college wasn’t worth the investment, and could provide insight into why fewer college-age students are pursuing a degree.
- Overall, 46% of all respondents plan to return to their current college or university and 18% plan to transfer.
- Students who have been in school four-plus years are almost twice as likely to drop out (22%) than freshmen (12%).
The freshmen retention numbers may be a bright spot for school administrators who saw those numbers plummet to 26% of freshmen who planned to drop out between fall 2019 to fall 2020 during the first year of the pandemic. This survey shows that 55% of freshmen intend to return to their current school, while 18% plan to transfer. The other 15% are undecided.
WHY STUDENTS ARE DROPPING OUT
The reasons students are dropping out are hardly surprising. In a super hot labor market, schools are competing not only with each other to attract students, but with employers as well.
In fact, 31% of students planning to drop out say they plan to find full-time employment while the labor market is hot. Another 28% want to start their own businesses.
Alison Hamar, a college counselor with college prep service Transizion, cautions students considering to forgo college for employment opportunities to think long-term. “Some students are captivated by the opportunities in the job market right now, but the data still shows that over a person’s lifetime, those with college degrees have more earning power,” she says in the report.
Students who plan to drop out also reported continuing their education in ways more closely related to finding employment including coding bootcamps (26%), certificate or job training programs (25%), and vocational or trade schools (22%). Another 26% reported that they felt they’d already learned enough to get a job.
OTHER REASONS STUDENTS DROP OUT
Not all students are leaving college to solely pursue their fortunes, however.
Some 54% indicated that cost was a factor in their decision to drop out next year: 29% said they couldn’t afford the living expenses while another 25% said they couldn’t afford the tuition. Another 24% reported that they needed to drop out to financially support their families.
Other reasons students cited for dropping out included not being sure what they wanted to study (31%), mental or physical issues (28%), poor academic performance (28%), changes in college life since the pandemic (28%), and higher education not being for them (24%).
MOST DROPOUTS ARE OPEN TO RETURNING IN THE FUTURE
A silver lining for universities and colleges facing smaller enrollments as tuitions rise and students find other ways to educate themselves? A majority of the students planning to drop out are open to finishing their degree at some point in the future.
Thirty-six percent report that it’s “very likely” they will return while 33% say it’s somewhat likely. The remaining 31% says it’s very unlikely they will return.
The online survey was conducted between January April 15-17, 2022, via Pollfish and targeted students aged 18 to 54 who were currently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program. View the full report. See Intelligent.com’s complete report here.