It's critical to support early college planning, especially for first-generation students and those from underserved communities.

First-generation students are more likely to seriously consider leaving college

It's critical to support early college planning, especially for first-generation students and those from underserved communities

Key points:

One in four current undergraduate students have seriously considered leaving college or have been at risk of dismissal, according to “How America Completes College 2024,” a national study from Sallie Mae and Ipsos. Sixty-four percent of students report being on a successful path to graduation, never having considered leaving school, and another 12 percent have considered leaving, but not seriously.

At-risk students cite financial challenges (30 percent), changes in motivation (24 percent), and mental health issues (18 percent) as primary barriers to college completion. In fact, mental health challenges are a concern for half of all current students. Only half (50 percent) of current students rated their mental health as good or excellent.

Sallie Mae’s “How America Completes College 2024” compares the perceptions of higher education among young adults, ages 18-30, currently enrolled in a 2- or 4-year program, and young adults of the same age range, who began their degree but withdrew before completing.

Nearly nine in 10 (88 percent) first-generation students believe college is an investment in their future, yet 41 percent of those who are first in their family to attend college have seriously considered leaving college compared to 18 percent of students from college-educated families. First-generation students are also more likely to work longer hours while in school and found it difficult to prioritize mental health, compared to other students (58 percent and 44 percent, respectively).

“The research highlights that college can be a challenging experience for all students as they are learning to balance school, social, and all their other responsibilities,” said Jennifer Berg, vice president, Ipsos. “While facing these challenges, unfortunately, mental health is taking a back seat for many students, particularly those who may not have the same support systems to help guide them through this new phase in their academic careers.”

Approximately six in 10 (57 percent) students at risk of not completing come from low–income households. Additionally, more than half (53 percent) of at-risk students who have a job report working more than 20 hours a week, compared to just one quarter (25 percent) of on-track students who are working while in school. At-risk students are nearly three times more likely to have transferred schools compared to on-track students and are also more likely to come from diverse backgrounds, including being Hispanic, Black, or part of LGBTQIAA+ communities.

Having a plan to pay for college before enrolling is linked to students being on track to graduate; almost half of on-track students (46 percent) had a plan to pay for all four years of college compared to a quarter of at-risk students (25 percent).

“We need to support early college planning, especially for first-generation students and those from underserved communities,” said Nic Jafarieh, executive vice president, Sallie Mae. “Developing programs and resources to keep students on track while they are in school, simplifying the college transfer process, and meaningfully expanding Pell Grants and connecting more students to scholarships can also help boost college completion.”

Nearly half (48 percent) of those who did not complete their program of study indicated financial challenges played a role in their decision to leave school. However, almost half of non-completers (45 percent) have plans to return to college in the next five years and a third (31 percent) plan to definitely return to college in the next year.

This press release originally appeared online.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Laura Ascione