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Study: Stopping out makes it harder to start college again

The more breaks a community college student takes, the less likely he or she is to ever graduate
University Business, January 2014

When life gets in the way, community college students often “stop out,” meaning they put their education on hold with the intention to return and complete a degree. But the more breaks a community college student takes, the less likely he or she is to ever graduate, according to a Florida State University study.

Toby Park, assistant professor of educational leadership at FSU, analyzed the records of 38,000 community college students in Texas who first enrolled in 2000. A big finding was that 94 percent of them stopped out at least once. Only 13 percent of the students studied who eventually went on to complete a bachelor’s degree did so without first stopping out.

And while 76 percent of the students who stopped out did so only once, those who put their education on hold two or three times were far less likely to get a degree.

Work and family responsibilities are two major reasons community college students stop out, the study points out. “While many factors influence overall success, it appears that those students who are working while continuously enrolled experience lower rates of academic success,” writes Park. “Put differently, these students are working hard for the degree, yet not succeeding in attaining it.”

Aside from life outside of school, another challenge is that, in many cases, students haven’t had the type of preparation they need to meet the academic demands and challenges of higher education, says Gail Schwartz, senior vice president for academic, innovation and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges. This often leads to frustration when students feel trapped in remedial coursework.

“The field has been working for a number of years on how to crack the code on developmental ed,” says Schwartz. In addition, many community college students don’t stick around on campus after class, but rather head out to deal with everything else on their plate. “They’re not there, or they don’t have the time, to take advantage of the types of support services that might be available to them,” she says.