Higher Ed: Want To Prevent Students From Dropping Out? Provide More Support, Realistic Expectations

Sep 22, 2019

Fewer college students than you might think make it from freshman orientation all the way to graduation. In this episode of KUT's podcast "Higher Ed," Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT's Jennifer Stayton discuss why students drop out, and what colleges and universities can do to help them stay in.

David Kirp's book The College Dropout Scandal (excerpted in The Chronicle of Higher Education) is packed with statistics about college attendance. One data point from the book really stands out: over 4 in 10 college freshmen will not graduate with a degree within six years.

As Ed points out, some of those reasons are practical or situational, such as an illness in the family or a change in family geography or status.

But there are other reasons more rooted in the institutions than in the students.

Ed says universities that make special efforts to recuit groups of students such as first-generation college students or international students also need to then provide those students with the necessary support.

"Once a student arrives, there are instutions whose attitude is 'we took that student ... and now we're done,'" says Ed, "instead of thinking about, 'OK, how do we now map a way for that student not just to graduate ... but to flourish.'"

Ed believes that support - for any student - needs to include personal connections because "the moment it becomes less personal, it's easier to find a way out."

Ed believes higher education as a whole should also examine the culture around expectations of what is "normal" and achievable in the standard four-year time frame. He says acceptance and flexibility in that regard might help more students stick with school.

"If someone needs, for whatever reason, a little more time to finish, they shouldn't think anything except -'This is the time that it takes me,'" says Ed. "This idea that four years is success is really nonsense."

Listen to the entire episode for further discussion about helping students stay in school. The puzzler takes to the gridiron this week, but no special knowledge of football is needed to figure this one out.

This episode was recorded on Aug. 7, 2019.

After this episode was recorded, Dr. Ed Burger announced that he is leaving Southwestern University in January 2020 to become president and chief executive officer of St. David’s Foundation.

For all the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.