In the United States, 33% of people who start college drop out. How could it be possible that so many people don’t want to take on fifty-thousand dollars in debt when they’re 19? 


They should know better, suck it up, and sign their soul over to the man. 😉

Why? What causes someone, maybe even you, to want to drop out of college? I’m not sure you can really answer that question without first giving the devil his due and understanding what makes people want to go to college in the first place. 

Being just past college age myself, and (given the topic this blog centers on) the research I’ve done to understand the college situation, the best answer I can come up with is going to college is the conventional wisdom answer to the question, “what should I do to have a successful life?” Or for parents, “What should I do to make sure my children have a successful life?” 

It used to be a seriously useful mechanism for individuals to turn a life of rags into riches. But things have changed since the Eisenhower-era education act

We can thank the internet for that. 

Why should 300 professors teach the same lecture every year when one of them can post it on YouTube and be done with it? It doesn’t make sense anymore. 

It’s understandable so many people are dropping out of college. It’s basic economics. What college used to provide is now being provided at a much lower cost. Yet college is getting more and more expensive.

A college economics student should be able to figure that out. The fact that they haven’t, speaks to the low quality of the education they’re getting. 

That’s the macro-level. What about the micro? What’s actually going on in these students’ lives that’s driving them to give up on the dream laid in front of them? What’s going on in your life that makes you want to know the answer? 

Students drop out because of money

It’s no surprise finances are the number one reason students drop out of college. 69% of college dropouts didn’t take on loans to help them pay for college. Which means they have to work while they’re in school to pay for tuition. Meaning staying in school requires twice as much effort as it does for those who are using financial aid of some sort to pay their bills. 

In a lot of cases, they report not getting loans because they’re not aware of all of the lending options available to them. That’s not that surprising. I don’t find many 18-year-olds that are super interested in what kind of loans they are capable of taking on. They just started getting the “Your Pre-Approved!” letters from credit card companies targeted to take advantage of their lack of financial knowledge.

There are plenty of people skulking around high-school campuses trying to get you hooked on a student loan.

But like any lender, their commission structure changes depending on what loans you sign. So you’re not likely to hear all the options. If you want the good stuff, you’d have to do your own research. Not something many new adults are very interested in.

A lot of people don’t have the option to be unemployed while they’re in college. Which means they might have to take classes part-time and work the other times. And being a part-time student changes the lending options for you. 

Students Drop out because of social obligation

If you go around asking people why they are going to college (I actually did this). Their answers usually fall into three buckets.

In the first bucket, is the students who know what career they want. They have a dream of being a lawyer, a doctor, or something else, and college has laid out a clear path for them to accomplish that goal. 

The second bucket will give you a list of generic, seemingly rehearsed, responses. “Because you’ll never regret having a college degree,” “it opens so many doors for you that you wouldn’t have been able to go through.” They sound more like someone who has fallen victim to a propaganda campaign than someone who is weighing out the options and choosing the best path for themselves. 

The third bucket has no idea what they are doing there. They’re skeptical of the reasoning everyone else has given for them to be there. But they go because they are getting pressure from everyone. Their parents, their teachers, and their peers see the whole thing as an amazing adventure.

I fell in the first bucket, but I knew I wasn’t going to graduate. I went to a community college knowing I wanted to learn business, so I took what classes would have me in that genre. Unfortunately, the business teacher in the class didn’t know much about business. But he did love to talk about global warming. More power to him, but not helpful for students who want to learn how to start a business. 

College costs more for the people in the 2nd and 3rd bucket. They get pulled in different directions, letting counselors and conventional wisdom tell them what to do with their lives. 

Eventually, they discover they don’t know what it is they’re trying to accomplish. Thus the emergence of the quarter-life crisis. A new term, invented to encapsulate an absurd amount of people in their early twenties are experiencing anxiety about the direction of their life. 

We were all set on a path that we didn’t choose. The path was created for the industrial era. And, as you’ll hear me say a lot, I think it was great for that era. But we’re in the information age now. And the industrial era life path doesn’t fit the new age.

Students drop out because it’s too difficult to work while in school

A lot of people can’t afford to quit their jobs to go to school. 30% of people who go to college are parents. As you imagine there is a lot of pressure to put food on the table. It can be hard to justify paying tens of thousands of dollars and spending all of your extra time in class when you have tiny people to take care of. 

The stress of working full time and going to school is the main reason people drop out of college.

It’s just too much. It’s too much to ask a parent to take on loans that don’t pay for themselves. I imagine it can feel like taking food out of your kid’s mouth while simultaneously giving them less of the parent they need. 

Students drop out because they lack academic preparation

If students start behind, having to take remedial courses, basically taking high-school level courses to catch up (I had to do this for math in community college) There is a 75% chance those students will drop out.

Our pre-college public education system isn’t doing much to get kids to like school. And if we can’t get students to stay on the course, they’re not likely to advance in the world of higher education. 

Our idea of improving the level of education in our educational system is just making kids work more. The average student has 6+ hours of being in class per day, and 3+ hours of homework. a lot of kids play a sport as well. A workload that would be illegal to force an adult to do. 

And then we turn around and say we are a culture that despises putting children to work. 

It’s all good to put students to work when it’s for their education and to prepare them for the world. But don’t expect that you can just drain them of their childhood and then question why it’s not working out. 

How could anyone ask why students are falling behind? We are constantly moving the goal line. Making it impossible for them to stay caught up because as soon as they do we present them with more work. How could you stop a 14-year-old from burning out with a never-ending workload?

“If education continues down the path of standardization and external measures for assessment, schools will continue to develop curricula that an AI could compute better, creating a generation that could be replaced by better performing, better computing, and more efficient non-human intelligence. However, if you choose an education that focuses on developing our human capacities to think, discern, judge, conceptualize, empathize, act, and love, then you will be setting up your adolescent for success.” – Robin Theiss, Motivating Adolescents

Of course, they are going to hate school and look for any way to take their mind off it. They are burnt out.

Students Drop Out Because a Lack of Guidance

If you don’t know what resources are available to you. Particularly, the different loan options available to you. You’re not going to just stumble upon the resources you need to afford to go to school. You may get a FAFSA loan when you really need a private one, or vice versa. 

You may think you want to be a business consultant because that’s what everyone else is doing. And the counselor will help you figure that out.

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us.” – Joseph Campbell

There was a study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the purpose of better understanding the college dropout problem. And, in my own words, at the core of what they found is that students, especially those who drop out, are just flat-out unprepared for higher education. They’re not educated on how the system works, how the loan works, the options available, etc…

Here are their comments straight from the study.

“The majority of students (62 percent) who told us that they alone were responsible for paying for college (regardless of whether they dropped out) report that their high school guidance counselors did a poor or only fair job of helping them to understand the application process. Among students who had financial support from their parents, less than half said the same.” – With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them

Giving students the guidance they need is crucial for helping them get through higher education. Or just life in general. The people with solid guidance have a severe advantage. Northwestern University created a study where the test the effects extra guidance has on college students, and as you would expect it improved the likelihood of a student finishing.

“In one experiment with 13,000 college students, some students were randomly assigned to have access for two years to consistent college coaching resources to help them form clear goals and related strategies. Those who received the coaching were 14% more likely to remain enrolled in college a year after the coaching ended than students in the control group.” – Mesmin Destin from Northwestern University

Jordan Peterson has a self-authoring program that helps you internalize your past, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and create a vision for your life. He reports the people who take his program, particularly males, are 30% more likely to graduate.

Final Thoughts

Before we go on with our day and enjoy ourselves, there is another thought that I have to mention to do this topic justice. 

On a macro level, it looks like the college system is going downhill. That’s a hot button issue, that I’m sure a lot of people disagree with. But hear me out. And just to clarify, I don’t think college is out, yet. It just seems it’s on its way out the door. 

The purpose of our modern education system was to prepare the people for an industrial economy made up of offices, warehouses, and factories. It’s the reason school buildings resemble something that looks like a factory. Everything is uniform, there are bells that ring during certain times (bells were used in factories to indicate when it’s break time, or the day is over). 

Now, the industrial age is over. The information age has begun and it’s beginning to change how we educate ourselves. Now there is no point for thousands of teachers across the country to be giving the same lecture, year after year. It’s an ancient way of doing things, even know it worked just 20 years ago. 

Beyond that, employers are starting to realize that college is not preparing them with the skills that employers need. That’s a big issue. Mainly because the main selling point for going to university is that it will prepare you to get a higher paying job. But employers, including me, don’t know why they should pay extra for employees that graduated college when employees who didn’t are much more affordable. Graduates and dropouts require the same amount of training, so why would you pay more for graduates?

The last, maybe the nail in the coffin, is that the world of academia has become run by democrats. Now, before you get spicy on me, I don’t care. But, it’s something like 90% of college professors are democrats. And hey, more power to them. Yet, about half of the country has the opposite political views. Do you think they are going to keep recommending to their kids that they go to college? No. They are going to be looking for something new. 

And fortunately, there is something new. The internet. 

Then of course there is the loan problem. But that’s for another day. 

If you’re worried that dropping out will ruin your prospects for the future, I would say it looks more like you’re getting a head start.