Recent trends and data show that kids failing college are more at risk for living in poverty and unemployment than their college-educated peers. While there are many reasons for these failure and dropout rates, many find balancing school, work, and family issues in a higher educational setting difficult.

These 5 Stats About Kids Failing College Will Surprise You

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While you may sigh with relief when you hear that high school dropout rates are decreasing, it may be just temporary relief in light of a recent trend that’s got educators and parents up at night, worried about the well-being of the rising generation.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the U.S. 19th (out of 28 countries) in graduation rates. In the United States, 40% of college students drop out every year. In light of such sobering statistics, it’s important to understand the impact that kids failing college can have on students and their families.

If you are the parent of a college-aged child or an upcoming high school graduate, it’s of utmost importance to recognize signs of struggle and explore actionable steps and channels of support before your family becomes a statistical footnote in this growing trend.

5 Sobering Statistics On Kids Failing College

It’s been said that the numbers don’t lie. So, if you’re questioning whether college dropout rates are increasing, carefully consider these five sobering statistics.

1. College Dropout Rates

According to, 33% of students dropout of college every year. That’s almost 1⁄3 of all enrolled college students. Even more concerning is that 28% of students drop out before becoming sophomores. Parents should note that the Freshman year experience is critical to determining academic success.

2. College Failure Rate

While it might seem that college dropout and failure rates are synonymous, they’re quite different. A child fails college when he or she is not able to complete their work with a passing grade. A dropout happens when the student gives up and de-enrolls from college before completing the requirements for graduation. Forbes lists the current national six-year college completion rate at 62.2%.

3. College Dropout Trends

While college dropout trends have steadily increased over the last decade, within the last two years, this upward slope has leveled out. Roughly 38% of college students dropout of college (we’ll talk about why later) every year. While this statistic is still concerning, there is some relief that it has leveled off over the last 2-3 years. 

4. Dropouts Re-enrolling

Out of the 40 million Americans who drop out of college every year, only 2% re-enroll. This statistic is consistent with past years. Although students can re-enroll, and some do, the majority of those who drop out do not return. 

5. Likelihood Of Living In Poverty

Pages of research support the statistics that failing to complete a college degree will likely result in a lower income. As college dropouts try to compete against a better-educated pool of graduate applicants, they traditionally earn less. The probability of living in poverty is 12.7 percent when equipped with a high school diploma and only 4.8 percent when hounding the job boards equipped with a college degree. 

Failing or dropping out of college has serious consequences. Those who drop out or fail face higher unemployment rates and often struggle to pay lingering school debt.

LEARN MORE: Common Mistakes Young Adults Make In The College Process

Why Do College Students Fail?

Every child and situation is unique, and while there are several reasons why your child might fail or drop out of college, these are the most common reasons that young adults struggle to have a successful college experience.

Why Your Child Fails College

According to, the following issues result in high dropout and retention rates:

  • 28% of the students fail college due to inability to meet academic standards. Many young adults are simply unprepared for the academic demands and organization skills that college-level classes require. They have poor study habits, time management, and inconsistent attendance.
  • 3% of college students fail due to mental, emotional, or psychological issues. It’s no secret that many of today’s youth struggle with mental health challenges, like anxiety and motivation, and this affects their ability to succeed in a college environment without proper support.
  • 89% of students from low-income families tend to drop out of college. Many kids from low-income families work part-time to afford college. More than half of those low-income students who dropped out claimed that difficulty balancing their work-study life contributed to their decision to leave college. The EDI reports that colleges and universities tend to lessen their financial aid support for students who earn more than $7,000, putting low-income students in a tough position.

Why Do College Students Drop Out

College students drop out (do not complete their college degree) for a variety of reasons. The dropout rate is not the same as failing college because you are unable to handle the academic requirements. Rather, dropout rates are influenced by a number of factors. Research supports the following statistics:

  • 38% of students dropout of college due to financial hardship. According to statistics, America’s growing college dropout rate is attributed mostly to financial challenges. Tuition costs have risen by 1,375% since 1978, causing many students to make the difficult choice between finishing their degree or dropping out.
  • 13% of students find adjusting socially to college life hard. This might be their first time away from home, and students may have a hard time managing their own schedules while balancing work, friends, and school. They may also find it hard to find friends.
  • 9% of college students drop out due to a lack of adequate family support. College is a big commitment–both financially and academically. While your child may start the school year off strong, even some of the most driven students may give up if academic pressure seems overwhelming. Having a good family support system in place is key to helping your child through the rough spots, giving them the advice, support, and help they need if the rigors and organization of college life become overwhelming. For some families, this might be the first member of the family to attend college, and mom and dad may not know how to offer adequate support. In this case, reaching out to resources outside the family, such as school academic counselors, is helpful.

DISCOVER: How A Therapeutic Gap Year Can Help You Succeed In College

Signs Your College Student Is Struggling

For many parents, signs that your college student is struggling may not be immediately apparent and develop slowly over time. As is with most problems, putting the work into prevention is often the key to success further down the road. 

If your student is struggling, watch for these signs and take note of actions you can take:

  • Marked anxiety, extreme restlessness, inability to concentrate or relax. Encourage your child to seek help from an academic counselor or get them in touch with a psychologist. This is the first step to uncovering the root cause of the anxiety.
  • Marked decrease or increase in appetite. This is often an indication that a child is not coping with high levels of stress. Have your child talk to an academic coach to determine what is not right. It could be anything from time management to social concerns about not fitting in to worries about academic performance. 
  • Marked decrease or increase in sleep or chronic fatigue. This is another classic sign of depression or anxiety. Again, it’s important to seek help right away. Don’t wait. 

When To Worry About Your College Student

While many kids might find it difficult to adjust to a new situation, it’s important to be aware of and recognize early warning signs and symptoms of academic and emotional distress, such as:

  • Loss of interest in formerly pleasurable or meaningful activities, such as classes, social life, or friend and family relationships.
  • Physical complaints, such as headache, stomach pains, etc.
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, or threats
  • Increased or decreased communication from your child

What To Do If You’re Failing College

It’s common for students to struggle and sometimes fail a class or a semester. As we’ve discussed previously, this can happen for many reasons, including decreased motivation, poor study habits, mental health challenges, financial struggles, and work-life balance struggles. However, a failed class doesn’t need to have long-term consequences if addressed properly and promptly.

Begin by identifying what went wrong. Then, consider one or all of the following to help you mitigate the situation.

  • Drop a Class. If you’re enrolled in a class that’s too advanced, see if it’s possible to drop it. If dropped early in the semester, it may not show up on your transcript. Another great option is to check if you can take the class as a pass/fail. This can ease some of the pressure/stress. You won’t get a letter grade, but as long as you are above the fail threshold, you don’t have to worry about it affecting your GPA.
  • Find a tutor or consult an academic or executive function coach to improve your study habits. Having support at this fundamental level will improve your child’s academic stamina.
  • Consult an academic counselor. Counselors are great at helping students navigate the system and can set them up for success. Whether you need to take a different set of classes or switch your major, consulting an academic advisor will help your child get on a sustainable educational path.
  • Reconsider your major. Maybe being a doctor is just not your thing. It’s okay to reconsider and change your major. Now’s the time to explore and find what you really love to do.
  • Seek financial assistance. If you are working and studying at the same time, you may simply have too much on your plate. Consider consulting with your child’s financial aid office to secure need-based financial assistance or reduce your working hours so you can qualify for further financial assistance. 
  • Seek counseling. The fight against depression, anxiety, and loneliness is real. If you find that you are overwhelmed, please consult a mental health professional. You don’t have to be in a crisis to seek help! Most colleges have health centers that offer a number of free counseling sessions.
  • Take a Break (not the same thing as dropping out). Taking a semester or a therapeutic gap year can be a good option in many circumstances. As long as you’ve arranged it with your school’s administration, there should be no issue. That said, don’t just take off without any plan. Make sure your time away is filled with learning experiences that will help you build your career. Consider seeking employment, joining a cause you care about, or pursuing opportunities such as an internship in your field of interest or a therapeutic gap year.
  • Transfer to a community college. Freshmen who have failed a semester can transfer to community college using a process called reverse transfer. Coursework at community college is usually less demanding, giving struggling students a chance to raise their GPA. 

FAQ: Supporting Your Struggling College Student

How Can I Help My Child Who Is Failing College? 

Watch for early warning signs and seek professional help using college resources like academic counseling and advising or enlist the help of an academic or executive function coach.

When to worry about your college student?

Any major deviation from your student’s normal routine is a cause for concern. Look for decreased interest in formerly pleasurable or meaningful activities, physical complaints such as headaches, stomach pains, etc., or withdrawal from social interaction with family and friends.

What Options Do Failing College Students Have?

You can take a semester off or a gap year, transfer to a less demanding community college, or drop a class.

How to Avoid Dropping Out of College?

Dropout rates are largely driven by financial struggles, mental health struggles, or failure to thrive academically. Learn good study habits and time management, take care of your mental health, and secure adequate financial support through loans or family assistance.

What steps should a student take immediately after realizing they are at risk of failing?

If your child shows signs of risk, do not delay getting help. Talk to a professional. 

Can Outdoor Therapy Programs Help Students Struggling With College?

Absolutely! Outdoor therapy programs help young adults cast their vision for future success by giving them space, opportunity, and skills to develop a growth mindset and embrace challenges.

What Alternatives Exist for Students Who Decide College Isn’t the Right Path?

There are many ways to make a living. For many young adults, owning their own business can be extremely satisfying and lucrative. Or consider getting trained in a trade, like welding, plumbing, or construction. Learning a trade can be a game changer if your child is happier working with their hands rather than sitting at a desk.

It Might Be Time to Consider a Gap Year

We know it can be challenging to help a young adult who is struggling in a college setting. Parents, watching from afar, might feel fear and anxiety about the future. That’s understandable. A gap year might be the solution to the storm brewing on the horizon.

Outdoor therapy is one of the great, often overlooked options available for students who are struggling to succeed in school. At Pure Life, our Outdoor Therapy Program is a transformative option for students facing academic struggles. We help them cast a vision for future success while building lifelong skills that will help them succeed academically and serve them throughout their lives. Our program is built around a holistic model that incorporates outdoor experiential learning, mindfulness, life skills, and cultural immersion. 

If your child is struggling to succeed and you or your child feel helpless, let us take the reins. Our professional staff has decades of experience in experiential learning that can transform your child into a thriving adult capable of dealing with stress, challenges, and headship head-on. We’d love to talk to you about what we can offer. Contact us today for a free consultation and to learn more about our gap year and outdoor therapy programs.

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