Colleges trying new ways to keep students from dropping out


“I don’t think the general public gets it,” said Robert Cox, Mount Hood’s dean of student services. “These are people who are on the fringe. They’re really just trying to get through till they get paid.”

Yet with other public services cut, he added, “There aren’t many other places left for students to turn.”

Mount Hood lets students check out books, laptops and calculators if they can’t afford them, runs a food pantry and provides bus passes for students in emergencies. The cost of one-way bus fare on the local transit system is $2.40.

“Even that could be a deal-breaker for many of these students,” Cox said.

A recent study by researchers at Michigan State University found that minor problems can start a chain of events resulting in students dropping out.

“These small things — just simply having the bus fare, or an unexpected bad grade, or being depressed — are shocks that prompt students to think about quitting,” said Tim Pleskac, a Michigan State psychology professor who directed the study.

This is a particular problem for public universities and colleges, which are increasingly being funded by cash-strapped state governments based not only on how many students they enroll, but also on how many end up earning degrees.

Dropouts also mean less tuition revenue, and are expensive to replace.

But not all students are comfortable confessing that they can’t afford to ride the bus. So some universities and advocacy groups are taking the next step by developing sophisticated early-warning systems to track them individually.

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