A third of American students plan to withdraw


Editor’s note: The research below was conducted in partnership between the Lumina Foundation and Gallup.

About a third (32%) of currently enrolled students pursuing a bachelor’s degree say they have considered withdrawing from their program for a semester or more in the past six months. A slightly higher percentage of students pursuing an associate degree, 41%, say they have considered quitting in the past six months. These levels are similar to 2020 levels, when 33% of undergraduates said they had considered quitting and 38% of undergraduates said the same.


Of all racial and ethnic groups, multiracial students are the most likely to report that they have considered quitting. About half of those pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree who identify as multiracial say they have considered quitting in the past six months (55% and 48%, respectively).

The results of the Lumina-Gallup State of Higher Education 2021 Study are based on online surveys conducted from October 19 to November 19. 22, 2021, with a non-probability sample of US adults ages 18-59 who earned a high school diploma or diploma but did not earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The sample included 5,215 students currently pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Learn more about research.

Emotional Stress Most Common Reasons Students Consider Withdrawing

Among those who considered stopping their classes, the most common reason was emotional stress. Seventy-six percent of those pursuing a bachelor’s degree who have considered quitting say they did so because of the emotional stress they were experiencing. A similar percentage, 63%, of undergraduates said the same. This represents significant changes from 2020, when 42% of undergraduates and 24% of undergraduates considering quitting said they did so due to emotional stress.

COVID-19, cost of attendance, and difficulty of classes were the three most common reasons students reported considering quitting; however, COVID-19 related reasons have decreased significantly from 2020 for undergraduate students. Course difficulty ratings have increased significantly from 2020 to 2021 — 17 percentage points for those pursuing a bachelor’s degree and 10 points for those pursuing an associate’s degree.



Declining enrollment poses a significant challenge for higher education institutions, especially at smaller institutions that rely heavily on enrollment to stay open. Students who stop higher education are also worse off than when they entered, many of them being heavily in debt without benefiting from a more remunerative diploma. As such, understanding the drivers of higher education dropout has never been more important. The rise in mentions of emotional stress and course difficulty as reasons students have considered quitting likely reflects the impact of COVID-19 on college campuses nationwide.

For nearly two years, students have struggled with a sense of isolation. Many have struggled with their classes due to these mental health issues and other issues related to openings, closings, and emergency remote learning. The two issues – academic challenge and mental health – are closely related, as course challenges can increase feelings of stress, and stress can make it harder to focus on schoolwork and studies. As higher education institutions grapple with a growing mental health crisis for a decade, it is clear that the pandemic has exacerbated an already critical problem, and the implications are devastating for students, their families and their institutions. It is more important than ever that students invest in high-quality mental health and academic support programs to serve as interventions to the growing enrollment challenges facing schools and their students nationwide. .

Learn more about the latest results 2021 Lumina-Gallup State of Higher Education Study.


Stephanie Marken is executive director of education research at Gallup.


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