College students still struggling to stay enrolled, Gallup research finds


Dive Brief:

  • More than 2 in 5 college students said they considered stopping out of their academic programs within a six-month period, according to a survey released Wednesday from the Lumina Foundation and Gallup. 
  • The organizations polled more than 6,000 students seeking a credential, as well as thousands of adults who either stopped out of college or never enrolled in the first place. Not only did 41% of students mull stopping out, but also those shares were higher for Black and Hispanic students — 43% and 52%, respectively.
  • More than half of students who considered stopping out attributed their thinking to emotional stress. A little under half reported they were considering stopping due to personal mental health reasons, and just under 30% said it was because of college costs.

Dive Insight:

College enrollment has been under pressure for years, as some institutions grapple with fewer high school graduates and students opting to go directly into the workforce. The pandemic ratcheted up those difficulties, challenging recruitment and stressing colleges’ bottom lines. 

The higher education world is just now seeing hints of recovery. Undergraduate enrollment is still on the decline, but it only fell 0.6% from fall 2022 year over year, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data. That’s the smallest decrease since the coronavirus began to spread.

The Gallup and Lumina Foundation research sheds light on the stressors that are forcing some students out and keeping others from enrolling. 

Enrolled students cited financial aid as a top reason for staying in college.

Just under 60% of both associate and bachelor’s degree students said this aid was very important. This is a larger share than in 2021, when half of those pursuing associate degrees and 52% of those enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs said financial aid was very important.

In the most recent survey, 52% of both groups of students said the value of their future credentials was very important.

Among students who aren’t enrolled in college, a little less than half reported that they’d consider doing so in the past two years. Of that group, 61% of students who had stopped out said they had considered reenrolling in that timeframe, while 36% of those who had never attended college said they thought it over.

Nearly 60% of Black adults and 53% of Hispanic adults said they had considered enrolling. That’s an increase from 51% of Black adults and 44% Hispanic adults in 2021.

Unenrolled students tended to prefer associate degree and short-term programs over bachelor’s degrees. Of the adults who thought about reenrolling in the last two years, 40% considered pursuing an associate degree and another 40% said they wanted a certificate. That’s compared to 27% who considered a bachelor’s degree and another 27% who considered an industry certification.


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