The Factors That Influence Completion and Non-Completion Among Disadvantaged College Students

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Pamela ARONSON, University of Michigan-Dearborn, USA
Matthew FLEMING, University of Michigan-Dearborn, USA
Previous research has found that college graduates are more advantaged than those who drop out. However, little is known about the subjective differences between low income graduates and dropouts. Based on in-depth interviews with 100 students at a four-year commuter university in Metropolitan Detroit, U.S., and an analysis of their academic transcripts six to eight years after the interviews, we found that high income students were much more likely to graduate from college than low income students. To focus on the factors that influence completion and non-completion among disadvantaged college students, we examine data from a sub-sample of 59 students, who were all below the 2010 U.S. median household income. Considering the characteristics of low income graduates and dropouts, we found that the graduates were, on the whole, slightly more disadvantaged than the dropouts: graduates had lower household incomes and were more likely to be students of color and first generation college students. Although both groups overcame many obstacles, graduates (more often than dropouts) reported overcoming extreme hardships, such as homelessness and taking out loans to pay for food and housing. Our analysis further revealed that dropouts reported difficulty assessing their academic needs and weaknesses, and often took no action when confronted by negative circumstances. In contrast, graduates were able to effectively confront their challenges, and more often displayed high self-efficacy (the view that they can influence their conditions). This perspective suggests the development of “grit” (the ability to persevere toward long-term goals). Graduates drew on their own resilience to make use of what we call a “toolbox” of strategies to overcome their obstacles. Thus, we find that self-efficacy, resilience, and the ability to confront obstacles are important factors that enable some disadvantaged students to complete college while others drop out.