Best Practices to Reengage Community College Dropouts

July 25, 2023 Watermark Insights

Best Practices to Reengage Community College Dropouts

Student dropouts have become common among colleges, especially as tuition prices rise and the cost of living increases. The more community college administrators work to understand the reasons for student withdrawals, the more they can prevent dropouts through effective programming and services for student engagement

5 Common Reasons Students Withdraw From Community College

Community college students drop out of school or classes for several reasons. From insufficient finances to a need for more community or acceptance at school, withdrawal can be based on various social, economic, or emotional causes. Here are the top five reasons students drop out of college.

1. Finances

Many first-generation college students or those from low-income families do not have the funds to pay their way through college. Even with the assistance of student loans, the money might not be enough to cover basic costs for books, supplies, or a meal plan. As tuition costs increase, many students must work full-time to pay for college or support their families. 

While colleges might think they offer enough money in loans and scholarships, many do not. Failing to find the money to pay for college can be one of the main reasons a student drops out. Alternatively, those applying for loans or financing might become overwhelmed and give up on reapplying.

2. Time

Another reason college students drop out is a lack of time. Creating a healthy work-life balance is hard enough. Adding schoolwork on top can be the breaking point of a student who doesn't have time for their projects, activities, and work responsibilities. 

Staying on top of lectures, tests, and studying can become stressful for students who don't know how to manage their time. Because college requires a commitment of several years, many students might not think the time and effort are worth the anxiety and burnout. Either life, work, or health will get in the way. 

In other cases, students are not able to commit to the commuting distance between their home and college. For those who drive from far away, the responsibilities of gas, car maintenance, and driving time might prove too much. 

3. Social Life

Sometimes the social dynamics of college hinder students from enjoying their time at school. Whether due to bad experiences or a lack of community and friendship, campus life comes with many pressures to fit in and find good peer relationships. Some students also feel the pressure to outperform their peers academically, leading to anxiety or stress over comparisons and inadequacy. 

Many nontraditional students may struggle to fit in with the college lifestyle and social scene due to their age or unique situation. Creating good relationships with students and finding community through extracurricular activities can be difficult.

4. Support

College is a significant commitment for all kinds of students. A support system to guide and advise you can make a huge difference for those considering dropping out. While friends and family can offer good support, having access to mentors, peers, and academic advisors is essential to any student's success. When the pressure of college overwhelms students, it is harder to accomplish their goals. 

5. Academics

Finally, the challenge of academics is a reason students drop out of community college. College coursework can be challenging, and students need many resources and assistance to succeed and graduate. Those who do not meet academic requirements might be tempted to drop out before they can make positive improvements. However, those feelings of frustration can pass once academic advisors and mentors work to help struggling students understand concepts, complete homework on time, and meet project deadlines. 

Without assistance from the college, struggling students may feel stressed and anxious with the fast-paced environment of technical classes or high-level courses.

5 Common Reasons Students Withdraw From Community College

Best Practices to Reengage Dropout College Students

When reengaging dropout college students, a community college can take several steps to ensure struggling residents feel cared for and supported. Here are six steps colleges can take to encourage students to engage in more academic and extracurricular events. 

Lower Costs

The cost of getting a college education rises every year. Due to this price rise, many financial aid institutions and programs struggle to keep up. While colleges might think the student loans and scholarships they offer are enough for students to pay their way through college, in many cases, it is not. 

To help reduce students' financial burdens, community colleges should offer better distance education programs and tuition offerings for non-resident students. More opportunities for financial assistance will mean fewer student dropouts.

Provide Academic Support Services

Learners who feel overwhelmed by classes and projects might be tempted to drop out due to burnout or stress. However, extra study assistance from peer mentors and professional tutors can build a student's confidence and help them succeed academically. 

Consider giving introductory classes that tell students how to study well and prepare for the challenges of college. When students feel more prepared, they are less overwhelmed and less likely to drop out.

Support Good Mental Health

Many students experience mental health issues while at college, so your institution should work hard to help students feel cared for and supported. Ensure that you offer mental health services through a counselor or psychologist and promote good coping skills through exercise programs, destigmatization, and therapy sessions that incorporate fun activities. 

For example, during exam week, you might offer a day where students can interact with a therapy dog or hold a petting zoo sponsored by the college's mental health program and staff. For those students who attend online or have trouble attending certain events, offer virtual programs to reach them. 

Offer Family Support

Family support is integral to a student's success. Many students in community college must care for family members or children while attending school full-time. By supporting these students, you can decrease the likelihood of dropouts due to burnout or stress.

Provide daycare services for students with children, or offer classes to prepare expectant parents for childcare. You can offer family housing programs to those in need and provide safe spaces for parents to breastfeed. Some colleges even offer free children's meals as a part of a student's meal plan.

Offer Family Support

Increase Reengagement Speed

The sooner your college reengages struggling students, the more likely those students will be to continue with their degree. Ensure that you organize and implement strategies consistently and reach out to students at every point in the college process. Just because a student has made it through freshman year does not mean your services should stop. Students want to know their college cares about them, so make sure you constantly offer resources and paths for student success

Streamline Restarts

If a student wants to reenroll in college, ensure your institution offers a quick and easy path for restarting. Help returning students feel prepared to reenter college by answering critical questions and providing a good experience. Whether they are worried about finances or want to know about new programs you offer, be prepared to assist them every step of the way.

10 Tips for Improving Student Retention

Identifying students' needs can help colleges prevent student dropouts and reach out to struggling residents. Here are 11 tips for improving student retention: 

1. Define Success

Many students struggle to define their personal and academic success when they reach college. Institutions can help those students by telling them how to set goals and what to expect when entering college academics. When students have unclear goals, it might be harder for them to achieve them. They can end up feeling discouraged and want to drop out of college. 

Ensure students learn about your college's resources, such as career programming and graduation preparations. Many colleges also offer classes to help students define personal goals in their first year and follow through on reaching those milestones throughout their education. The more colleges help students create good habits and prepare for their careers, the more likely students will be to want to stay at their institutions. 

2. Connect and Engage New Students

Connecting and engaging new and first-year students is pivotal to improving student retention. Many colleges implement orientation programs to engage new students and showcase the great things about their institution. Orientation programs can also build relationships between peers, and connect students with staff, advisors, or faculty members who may be critical to that student's success. 

Ensure programs are targeting nontraditional college-aged students as well. For commuters, older students, or students with disabilities, the college should offer programs that are both accessible and inclusive. Help students of all ages feel accepted and connected throughout their campus journey.

3. Use Data to Track Warning Signs

Tracking data can be used to detect warning signs before students decide to drop out of college. You can analyze information about attendance, credits, and retention rates to promote better programming and intervention techniques. Use communication tools to assist students in all areas of struggle, from social and emotional to academic and financial. When you feel prepared to intervene, your institution will be more capable of retaining students. 

4. Begin Intervention Processes

Early intervention can be the key to identifying struggling students and preventing dropouts. If your college wants to help students, consider implementing new intervention plans by analyzing engagement data. Reach out to students at every level, including those with personal, social, academic, or financial issues. 

5. Build Community

Having a community during college can help students feel involved and cared for. If your college is huge, it can be challenging for students to find groups or peers and build relationships. Colleges that want to foster a sense of belonging can begin personalized learning activities to reach disconnected students and prevent dropouts. Consider promoting areas like Greek organizations, student clubs, or volunteer programs. The more peers students can engage with, the less likely they are to drop out due to loneliness. 

Build Community

6. Partner With Parents

Parents are one of the first places students may go when looking for support at college. Institutions that communicate with parents about their students' activities, struggles, and successes can better prevent dropouts or disengagement. Help parents learn to identify mental health needs through intervention and identification techniques. You can host in-person sessions or online programs.

7. Gather Feedback

Gathering feedback can help community colleges measure student emotions, such as satisfaction or happiness. With feedback about programs and classes, your institution can integrate better activities and plan for dropout prevention. Consider sending out monthly polls or surveys to measure how students feel. You can use this feedback to address their struggles, wants, and needs. Get them excited about college by directly addressing their feelings and showing you care about their happiness. 

8. Encourage Autonomy

When college students begin their studies, they often become autonomous adults for the first time. With the ability to make decisions for themselves comes the stress and anxiety of figuring out what they want and who they are. Colleges can encourage and embrace student autonomy by helping them set personal and professional goals through self-assessments and mandatory events. 

Some colleges also choose to set up mentoring programs, where students can ask questions about living independently or ask for help whenever needed. When students feel more comfortable living on their own and making decisions for themselves, they are more likely to continue with their education.

9. Highlight Experiences

Keeping students involved in extracurricular activities or active leadership roles in the college community can help improve student retention. Outside of regular college classes, friendships and groups enrich the student experience while reducing the chance of boredom or potential disengagement. 

Without fun college experiences throughout their studies, students are more likely to stop engaging with classes. They may even stop attending altogether if they don't fit in; the social aspect of college can be just as important to students as the degree itself.

To prevent dropouts from happening, community colleges can encourage at-risk students to explore different extracurriculars and groups on campus. Help them get involved by hosting a campus club fair or setting up booths to promote other activities. More students will find community and friendship when colleges encourage learning and promote clubs often.

10. Offer Flexible Scheduling

Many students have unique schedules due to work responsibilities or family demands. For those students who must work around their schedules, finding time to fit in classes may become an obstacle to completing college. When colleges offer flexible scheduling, such as weekend or evening classes, students with special scheduling needs can attend classes without worrying about their other responsibilities. Flexible schedules allow students to manage their time well and work around essential conflicts. 

Flexible schedules should also include accessible virtual classes and online programming. For commuting students with full-time work obligations, the availability of virtual classes can be a game changer. You are sure to improve student retention by offering flexible schedules and classes.

Improve Student Retention With Help From Watermark

Watermark assists community colleges and universities with student retention and dropout prevention by providing reliable data collection, measurement services, and analysis software. Using our assessment, accreditation, learning outcomes, and research services will improve your college programs for student dropouts. 

For institutions that want to reach out to struggling students, consider partnering with Watermark to explore helpful data. Contact our company today to speak to a representative or request a demonstration.

Improve Student Retention With Help From Watermark

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