Money: Reason Freshmen Drop out; This Is Why 44 Percent of College Students Leave after First Year

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT COLEMAN

The bills were stacking up, and she said paying rent took precedence over taking classes.

Financial aid covered textbooks and tuition, but he couldn't have anticipated how quickly the cost of food and other necessities racked up.

Living at home and attending school at the nearby community college just made more sense to her than plunging into thousands of dollars in debt to keep attending a four-year university.

Their backgrounds and circumstances all differ, but their stories share a common thread.

They all attended four-year colleges in Northeast Florida and dropped out their freshman year because of economic hardship.

Some of the students spoke with The Times-Union last week but didn't want to be identified because of a fear of being embarrassed in front of their peers. Others were polled during First Coast college exit surveys.

Either way, their reasoning mimics that of hundreds of students across Northeast Florida and the nation who have succumbed to the rising cost of higher education. And these concerns are unlikely to dissipate in Florida, where tuition is set to increase by about 15 percent annually for the next 10 years.

About 37 percent of freshmen at Jacksonville University, a private college that costs about $24,000 per year, left the school last year, compared with 35 percent in 2007. Spokesman Derek Hall said 44 percent of them said their decision was financially motivated in a qualitative survey that was administered after they left. That's an increase of 19 percentage points from the previous year.

Some other reasons cited in the survey included being away from home, bad roommates and the stress of the college curriculum.

The number of freshman dropouts at the University of North Florida, which costs about $3,700 per year for in-state students and almost $15,500 for out-of-state scholars, was far lower than JU. Only about 5 percent of freshmen who started last semester didn't continue in the spring, a school spokeswoman said. About 8 percent quit at the same time in 2007.

Their reasons, though, were comparable with those provided by the JU students.

Karen Reddy, executive director of UNF's Academic Center for Excellence, said a majority of the students polled after they left school cited financial concerns. The data, though, are mostly anecdotal. Few universities follow up with students who don't return to campus, and most available data - such as the UNF survey - are imprecise and reliant upon students who decide to cooperate.

It's also unclear where the students go when they leave or if some simply go on sabbatical and will return later.

Vincent Tinto, a professor at Syracuse University and the author of "Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition," said the rate of students who claim financial hardship as their reason for leaving school has grown exponentially in the past two years as the economy has taken a dive. …