Work-Related Issues Top Reason for Leaving College, Study Finds

Work-Related Issues Top Reason for Leaving College, Study Finds

Americans who leave college before completing their degree are most likely to do so due to challenges in balancing the demands of school, work, and other responsibilities, a report from the Lumina Foundation, the Strada Education Network, and Gallup finds.

Based on telephone interviews with more than forty-two thousand adults between the ages of 25 and 64 who enrolled in college — 52 percent in associate degree programs and 47 percent in bachelor's degree programs — but left before earning a degree, the report, Some College, No Degree: How Individuals Who Attend and Don't Graduate Feel About Education (16 pages, PDF), found that "work-related issues" (17 percent) was the most commonly cited reason for leaving school, followed by financial pressures (12 percent) and life events or personal problems (11 percent). The survey also found that those same issues prevent respondents — 76 percent of whom are currently in the workforce and about half of whom earn less than $35,000 a year — from returning to college, with 17 percent citing work-related issues, followed by cost (12 percent) and lack of time (11 percent). Only 19 percent said they were no longer interested or didn't need to complete their degree.

According to the study, adults who left college without a degree report experiencing significantly lower-quality career and academic advising compared with their peers who graduated, with more than half rating the quality of both academic and career advising as poor or fair. Younger respondents between the ages of 25 and 34, African Americans, Latinx, and those who are working in the healthcare, food preparation, and construction industries were more likely than others to say they planned to enroll in additional courses or training within five years — and all respondents were more likely to do so via their employers than at a community college, a four-year institution, or a trade school or online. About half the respondents said that free college tuition (52 percent), courses that fit their schedule (47 percent), or a guaranteed employment outcome (47 percent) would affect the likelihood of their enrolling "a great deal."

"As policy makers [and] education and business leaders look to reengage individuals who have not completed their degree, it's important to remember that they didn't have the support needed to manage school alongside the realities of life," said David Clayton, senior vice president of consumer insights at the Strada Education Network. "In our previous research, we found that adults with some college but no degree are no more likely than those who never went to college at all to say that they need additional education. In this new analysis, consumers are telling us that in order to make the investment of time and money needed to return to college, they need learning experiences that are flexible, affordable, and clearly linked to career outcomes."

(Photo credit: Strada Education Network)

"Some College, No Degree: How Individuals Who Attend and Don’t Graduate Feel About Education." Lumina Foundation, Strada Education Network, and Gallup Report 12/17/2019. "New Report: American Adults Cite Work-Related Issues 
as Top Reason for Stopping Out of College." Lumina Foundation Press Release 12/17/2019.