Students at Risk for Dropping out of School

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First year students' attrition has received particular attention among such educationally developed countries as the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, and it urgently needs to be addressed by those stakeholders. Likewise, this burning issue has been the focus of higher education research for over 65 years, especially in the United States. With this issue around the corner, studies have been conducted by a number of institutions in charge including the US Office of Education in order to figure out the main causes of the student attrition (McNeely, 1937). In addition the UK Higher Education Funding Council also includes student retention as the most important thing involved in its strategic plan (2003-08) (HEFCE, 2005a). At the mean time, student attrition in Australia has become so problematic that the Department of Education Science and Training took the unprecedented step of publishing higher education attrition rates for the period 1994 to 2002 (DEST, 2004). With extensive investigation into the case, student attrition is seen as a combination of a lot of causes (Kift & Nelson, 2005). The following are the findings, discussion, analyzing and evaluation over the causes.

Findings and Discussion

Common concern regarding first-year students' dropouts has been a popular topic among researchers, especially in the US, UK, and Australia. Different methods were used to collect and ensure reliable data regarding the reasons why first-year students' dropout remains a burning issue in the present academic world. With a number of research studies extensively conducted over the case, common root causes have been identifies as following.

School Factors

Institutionally-initiated engagement activities.

Reason et al. (2005, 2007) view the important role of students' engagement activities, which are initiated by the university, in reducing or preventing first-year students' dropout. They emphasize that students' academic competences have to be addressed by the institutionally-initiated engagement activities and that holistic and integrated approach to monitoring their engagement is a central mechanism. They, moreover, stress the necessity of the establishment of the First Year Experience Program at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) for the students' engagement. This program basically aims at reducing students' attrition and maximize learning and engagement amongst commencing students since the program will provide engaging learning experiences through intentionally designed and enacted curriculum; to facilitate access to practical and timely support services; and to promote a sense of belong (QUT, 2002a).

Teacher-and-student connection in the context of tutorials.

Meer (2009) identifies the students' challenges as the result of the teachers' personal connection to students and teacher's ignorance while the students were working in group. May students reported that tutors left them more or less to themselves to make their groups work; in many cases little guidance was provided. Students also reported that, in high school, teachers usually knew students by name. However, in tutorials in university, students did not always experience this. In some tutorial groups students and tutors introduced themselves while in others this did not happen. In this regard, it is clear that the relational aspect had an impact on how students become familiar with the tutorial teaching environment. Students generally appreciated tutorials where they were known, and where they knew each other; and it therefore leads to reducing students' attrition.

Student Factors

Finances and resources.

Students' finances and resources is more or less a challenging problem for the first-year students' attrition. Students who study by paying the higher education contribution scheme (HECS) fees at the start of their first year tend to be more committed to staying in the university. Likewise, those who depend on their family financial support are more likely to pursue. However, those reliant on the government support or part-time employment are more likely to consider dropping out. Thus, students owe their academic success to whether they can earn enough fees on time; or else, they will decide to quit.

Sense of purpose.

Students who have clear goal and strong ambition at the start of their enrollment are more likely to continue their study while those who feel that being enrolled at the university is just marking time are more likely to consider dropping out. In this regard, sense of clear academic direction is the essential intrinsic motivation for the students to continue their study. Moreover, it can help the students learn better because they are enthusiastic with the subject. In contrast, those who come to school without strong desire to push themselves academically tend to be discontinue their course shortly in year one.

Achievement and self-regulation.

Unsatisfying or low academic achievement and unrealistic expectations in the first year are also seen as the reason. With low grades, students tend to feel disappointed with their study as they think they might not be able to satisfy the course. Hence, their commitment becomes less and less day by day. The less the students' confidence become, the more they consider dropping out. Similar thoughts about dropping out of university are evident among those students who fail to make a smooth adjustment to university, have difficulty understanding course material, feel overwhelmed by all they have to do at university, and express discomfort in group discussion contexts such as small group tutorials. Moreover, potential dropouts are more likely to those who skip classes and regularly come to class unprepared. Students who spend less than the average time on study (i.e., less than 11 hours per week, see Krause et al., 2005, p.34) are more likely to consider dropping out than their peers who admit to studying more than average and on weekends when needed.

Student satisfaction.

Students' personal satisfaction with the university tend to be students' good motivation to continue their study. For instance, they are satisfied with their course and university experience overall. They are happy when they receive helpful advice early in their association with the institution when they chose their courses. They are also satisfied with the subject choices they made, demonstrating high sense of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997).

Peer connection.

Peer connection among students is also found to be a good motivation for students to continue their study. Meer (2009) outlined the significant role of peer interaction in their study, which it was believed to be important in reducing students' attrition. He moreover emphasized the opportunity for students to interact with each other was outside the classroom and in the context of group work. Students in various courses had to engage in group work, including some large health science and business courses. Because the survey questions specifically asked students about practices related to lectures, tutorials and laboratories, not many comments surfaced about group work.

Shared Responsibility between School and Students

Student success in the first year is a shared responsibility of both university and students themselves, Nelson, Uncan, & Clarke (2009). It means that the students drop-out is not wholly dependent on students but also the university. Despite students' decision to drop out of school is mostly made by students themselves, the university should also be at least award of the reasons why they choose to quit if the school is accountable enough. Thus, the supply-side needs to be answerable to the issue.

Absenteeism or poor performance on the first assignment.

Duncan & Nelson (2008) showed that 180 students were deemed to be at risk because of consecutive absences or poor performance on the first assignment. To deal with the issue, a few students-supporting programs were established. For instance, Student Success Project (SSP) was created to monitor student engagement in holistic and systematic way and also enhance the experience of commencing students by facilitating both persistence and academic performance. Contact Management System was established to identify and help all the at-risk students. Moreover, Student Success Advisors, whose members were year-two-or-three students, was intended to help the at-risk students by means of giving them motivations to continue their study.


With the above findings and discussion clearly demonstrated, it could be suggested that the causes of first-year students' attrition are mainly a combination of the school and the students themselves. In this sense, proactive personal contact with the first-year students should be conducted for the target students in order to provide them an action plan of personal, social and academic processes. In addition institutions could consider creating more opportunities for students to interact with each other and learn from each other. Program such as Peer Assisted Study Sessions should be established to assist the students (Lewis, O'Brien, Rogan, & Shorten, 2005). Appropriate learning development programs should be created deal with some more students' issues such as students' finances and resources, students' sense of purpose in learning, students' academic achievement and self-regulation, students' satisfaction with the course, and their peer social connection. However, universities need to respond to some radical challenges since some issues are possibly handled by the university, but some problems are not solvable as they are the students' factors. In this situation, solution to the issue lies in students themselves. Despite some insolvability in some issues, with universities' assistance, relevant stakeholders' attention or other students-assisting programs' intervention; students would feel motivated in continuing their study, and they hence become enthusiastic in continuing the study with their academic world looking so beautiful to them.