Monday, April 11, 2011

Attrition Pathways out of College

There are three major categories of initiators for students to leave schools all of which relate to whether or not a student believes he is she is getting a good financial, emotional and affective return on his investment. These initiators correlate directly with such feelings as whether or not the school is worth the investment of money/time, emotions and being part of it as seen major reasons for leaving college such as “it’s just not worth it”. Another initiator is related to a student feeling he or she is not valued by the school which is strong shown in the common statement “all they care about is my money”. A third comes out of a student believing his or her sense of importance is not returned by the school in its services as seen in the statement “I get poor service and help.” Another initiator comes in the area of being able to schedule courses and in particular having schedules changed in the last week or the week that classes start. The next most common initiator is financial problems not being able to cover the cost of school though we have found that if a student feels he or she is getting the full return on her investment she will find some way to pay for it. Other initiators include poor grades, a belief  the educational and/or quality of training is weak and finally actual personal reasons.

These initiators can be further divided into strong shocks, insults and accumulations. A strong shock is a jolt to a person that is enough in and of itself to make that individual decide to leave college. An obvious shock is failing grades in enough classes to make graduation seem an improbability, Another could be physical assault, death or illness in the family, finding out that a promised major does not exist or has happened in some for-profit schools that credits do not transfer or there are not jobs after graduation.

In their article “A Detection Model of College Withdrawal” on why some students drop out of universities and college Timothy J. Plaskac et al (2011) posit the idea of shocks, events or actions so strong as to cause a jolt to a student enough to make him or her drop out of school as a major contributors to the decision to leave school. Though they do not define a shock they list examples that they found as a causes for their study group to say they might leave college. Their list includes “theft, assault, becoming pregnant, an unexpected bad grade, roommate conflicts, lost financial aid, illness, death in the family, clinical depression, close friend left school, addiction, conflict with a faculty member… as jolts that have significant role in the decision to leave college. (P7) These are major events in the life of the student.

These we believe can be divided into four categories of strong shocks.

1.      Physical shocks -assault, pregnancy, illness, addiction..)
2.      Self-value shocks - unexpected bad grade, conflict with faculty member or roommate
3.      Life shocks- death in the family, marriage, lost job paying for school, came into a large sum of money, received a job offer…and
4.      Service shocks - lost financial aid, large increase in tuition and fees.

The category of shock is flexible depending on how the shock affects the individual and how it affects his or her sense of self. For example what could be a physical shock such as an assault or robbery could affect an individual as a shock to the self-value the individual holds for him or herself. An assault could lower one’s self-esteem for example rather than cause a person to be fearful of the environment an almost certain cause of a student dropping out of school.  A shock to one person may also not be a jolt to the system for another.  A large increase in tuition and fees for a person who feels that the college is worth the cost because it will lead to a valid return on investment might not find the increase all that much of a jolt while another who does not see the value to the education and training leading to a job goal could find that increase to be a sufficient enough shock to quit school.

A strong shock such as class cancellations in the week before classes’ start will many time be enough for a student to drop out or at least step out. This is a particularly strong shock for communing and adult students because in most every case a student has determined his or her life around the original schedule. She has registered, been told the schedule she chose is hers and built her life schedule around it. She has for example, gotten her work schedule adjusted so she can attend classes and lined up baby sitters for the hours of the classes. Then in the last week or even worse, the days before that start of the semester, the college lets her know that due to low enrollment a class has been cancelled. This is a shock. All her plans have been disrupted. Her life has been disrupted. If she cannot or has problems re-arranging her schedule, the shock remains strong and she drops out or at least stops out which easily can become a drop. If she is able to re-arrange her life to accommodate the school the shock can become an insult but it has started her on the pathway out.

An insult is also a jolt but to the ego primarily and often comes in the form of poor service that leaves an issue unresolved or poorly handled. For example if a student tries to get help for an exam but is rebuffed by the faculty member, or an administrator refuses to help solve a problem with another employee of the school leaving the student with an unresolved issue. Or it could be a student’s registration and courses are lost and the student has to start all over just before classes start or have started.  These are felt as personal rejections or insults. A single insult in and of itself might not be enough top cause a student to drop out but if they accumulate, they can become sufficient quickly to lead to attrition increases.

Both shocks and insults are fungible within category depending on the individual though shocks tend to be strong enough to be consistent for all individuals. But what might be a strong shock for some such as a physical change such as pregnancy or illness in an individual might just be a challenge for one which will not initiate a drop while for another a weaker shock such as a broken limb might be enough to initiate a drop. An illness in the family could cause some students to leave while others will or can shake it off and maintain their studies. The strength of a shock or insult thus must be seen in relation to the strength of the individual as well as the narcissism and/or marginalism of the student.

The accumulative category is just what it says it is. Enough instances of poor service, rejection, mild insults, lack of assistance, lost paperwork, disappointments etc. occur to exceed an individual’s threshold and he or she drops out.  One too many times, a student is ignored while standing at a counter, has to stand in lines, the food is cold, mushy and judges expensive, can’t find a parking spot, is not greeted with a smile and offer of assistance, emails or voice mails are not returned, appointment times not kept and so on. These experiences build and initiate students to leave for one of the reasons listed above.

Strong shocks
Realizing can’t graduate GPA, academic progress, failing a course, won’t get a job, school misled about major or credits, pregnancy, feeling unsafe, not worth it, college does not care, last minute course schedule change, illness, loss of financial support…
Moderate shock
Reduction in FA, weak grades, argument with faculty or staff, lost job, change in family situation, roommate problems, car repairs for commuter, rebuff in personal situation, can’t get course needed, last week schedule changes, argument with staff or faculty member, lost paperwork
Moderate shocks could also be a strong shock depending on individual personality and situation
Everyday insult –not necessarily an insult as such but poor service that can feel like an affront
The shuffle, lack of call return, paperwork not done, non-responsiveness, looks, rebuff, poor signage, missed appointment, poor reception, having to wait to see someone, lines, poor web navigation, lack of help when needed, poor phone use, no response to emails, problems not resolved, made to feel unimportant, lack of give a a name get a name, lack of greetings, feeling of not belonging,  tests not graded timely…

Pathways Out of College

The three categories of initiators create pathways out of the school and increase in strength during certain periods on campus or off.  The first week of classes is a notoriously significant time for the creation of a pathway out as students are new to the school, have high expectations and low real affective relationship. Students do not know their way around physically such as finding their way from classes to the dorm, the dorm to various administrative buildings and can easily get lost on campus since most colleges and universities have terrible on-campus signage. As a result, they are often late to class. These are definite accumulators.

They may also find that books required for the courses are not available or sold out. In any case they will almost always exceed cost expectations. Financial aid often comes in late for many students and then when nit does arrive, it is less than the estimators calculated. Commuters will become involved in the almost assured search for a parking spot and have to be late to class; take too long to find a space and miss class or just give up and go home. Dorm students will meet their new roommates and find they are not compatible and the RA’s and housing officers may not have anywhere to move them. These first week occurrences may seem like old hat to seasoned students but to new first term freshmen they almost always become insults; not accumulators. They will lead to a student determining in the first weeks that this will not be worth my time/money, emotions and wanting to belong and unless something happens that student will drop out.

In fact, it is almost as if the school were challenging new students to get lost on campus and learn your way around to prove you belong here.  Sort of a rite de passage that has replaced freshman hazing in which students need to pass to be considered appropriate college material. This is a situation that schools should change immediately to decrease attrition. Students should not have to prove they deserve to be there. If they have been selected for admission, they do deserve to be there and the school should do all it can to remove the first weeks’ accumulators and insults. 

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