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College Attrition

crowd of graduates diminishes
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Kerby Andersonnever miss viewpoints

The other day I came across a shocking statistic. Lee Burdette Williams says, “About three million first-time college students will soon be arriving on campus—most of them coming directly from high school. About one million of them won’t make it through their first year or return as sophomores.” She concludes that “this attrition is financially and emotionally devastating for families” and it is also “destabilizing for colleges.”

Why is this happening? Many of these departures are financial. Higher education costs so much and has been rising more than twice as fast as inflation. But another factor, often ignored, are the mental challenges these incoming college students face. Just consider these two facts.

First, nearly half (44%) of all college students report symptoms of depression and anxiety. Second, the rate of students taking psychiatric medication doubled in less than a decade and a half (2007 to 2019) and now includes one quarter (25%) of all students.

Lee Burdette Williams has served as dean of students at the University of Connecticut and later at Wheaton College. She suggests that the nine weeks between high school graduation and a student’s arrival on campus are not enough time for social and mental adjustment. They go from being under their parent’s authority and management to independent living. Although many of us made this transition in the past, today’s students seem less mentally equipped to do so.

That is why she suggests two alternatives. One is what she calls a “half-step year” where the student lives at home while attending a local college. The other is a full “gap year” which is becoming more popular and provides students with an opportunity to pursue study or experiences that may enhance their resume.

If you want to make sure your child or grandchild doesn’t drop out of college, you might explore some of her suggested alternatives.viewpoints new web version

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