Student Voices: Leaving College, Concerns About Going Back And What To Look For In The Future

June 1, 2017

We spoke with new traditional students to understand why they left college, what concerns they have about returning, and what they’re looking for in a school now.

As college graduates are congratulated and “Pomp and Circumstance” ushers them into the work world, we notice that some faces are missing from the class. Who is not donning a cap and gown this spring? Many more students than you think, and they don’t fit a particular mold. Those inside the so-called traditional mold of an 18 year-old who is financially dependent on their parents and attending college full time account for as few as 16% of college students today.

Adults looking to attend college account for about a third of first-time college students in the U.S. This new traditional student doesn’t live in an on-campus dorm, attend classes in person 5 days a week and graduate in 4 years. Many are older and juggle families, jobs and school, among other responsibilities. They have a long and winding road ahead before they can step on stage, shake the dean’s hand and collect a diploma.

We spoke with new traditional students to understand why they left college, what concerns they have about returning, and what they’re now looking for in a school. These one-minute illustrative videos below were shot as part of a larger project to better understand the needs and aspirations of new traditional students with support from The Kresge Foundation.

Why I Left College



“I wanted to get my associates, and then my bachelor’s, and, you know, then go get my masters. I even wanted to get my Ph.D. My dad wanted me to help him with his business so I ended up basically slowly taking two classes per semester, one class twice a week, and then eventually I just stopped.”

– Jennifer, 31

My Concerns About Returning to College



“I am very scared of going back to college because I am a single mother. You know, I still have to work. But my biggest fear is starting it and all of a sudden, something else happens.”

– Lashanti, 32

“What I worry about is being able to succeed and fully finish it, and also, learn.”

– Christopher, 53

What I Look For in a School



“I want to know how soon did they obtain the job, where did they obtain the job, did they choose to drop out of the job market? I think the statistics really need to be a little more detailed.”

– Samuel, 39

Helping these adult prospective students be successful requires the coordination and collaboration of higher education institutions, policymakers, businesses and the broader community. We’re working on this issue so that clear and defined pathways exist from high school onto college and the workforce. Use our community engagement resources and discussion starters, particularly the “Success is What Counts” guide to effective community engagement practices, to better understand these issues in higher education and help enact reform that can lead to greater student success.


Megan Rose Donovan

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