Why Students Drop Out

Even though school completion rates have continually grown during much of past 100 years, dropping out of school persists as a problem that interferes with educational system efficiency and the most straightforward and satisfying route to individual educational goals for young people. Doll, Eslami, and Walters (2013) present data from seven nationally representative studies (spanning more than 50 years) regarding reasons students drop out of high school. Some excerpts are presented below in tables; however, for a complete discussion, please see the original article: “Understanding Why Students Drop Out of High School, According to Their Own Reports

The selected tables are presented in opposite order than they appear in the article so as to present the most recent data first. Note also that survey questions varied from study to study (database to database) so caution should be taken in making comparisons across years and studies.

Included in the tables presented is an analysis of whether the reasons presented are considered “push,” “pull,” or “falling out” factors. The following briefly presents an explanation from Doll et al. (2013).

Jordan et al. (1994) explained pressures on students of push and pull dropout factors. A student is pushed out when adverse situations within the school environment lead to consequences, ultimately resulting in dropout. . . . [S]tudents can be pulled out when factors inside the student divert them from completing school. . . . Watt and Roessingh (1994) added a third factor called falling out of school, which occurs when a student does not show significant academic progress in schoolwork and becomes apathetic or even disillusioned with school completion. It is not necessarily an active decision, but rather a “side-effect of insufficient personal and educational support” (p. 293).

The National Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC) at Clemson University exists to support those who work to improve student success and graduation rates. NDPC offers a wide range of resources and services to schools, districts, regional agencies, and states. Contact NDPC by (email: ndpc@clemson.edu or phone: 864-656-2599).

Educational Longitudinal Study (2002) Ranked Reasons for Dropout in 2006 by Student Dropouts. 
Type Rank Cause of Dropout Overall Frequency Percentage Males Females
Overall Pushed out—10 factors 48.7 53.1 47.1
Pulled out—8 factors 36.9 30.4 40.0
Falling out—3 factors 14.3 16.5 12.9
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
School-related reasons:
Push 1 Missed too many school days 43.5 44.1 42.7
Pull 2 Thought it would be easier to get GED 40.5 41.5 39.1
Push 3 Was getting poor grades/failing school 38.0 40.1 35.2
Fall 4 Did not like school 36.6 40.1 32.0
Push 5 Could not keep up with schoolwork 32.1 29.7 35.3
Push 8 Thought could not complete course requirements 25.6 22.9 39.0
Push 9 Could not get along with teachers 25.0 27.7 21.6
Fall 12 Did not feel belonged there 19.9 19.9 19.9
Push 13 Could not get along with others 18.7 17.7 20.1
Push 14 Was suspended 16.9 22.9 9.0
Fall 17 Changed schools and did not like new one 11.2 14.5 7.0
Push 18 Thought would fail competency test 10.5 9.0 12.3
Push 19 Did not feel safe 10.0 10.5 9.5
Push 20 Was expelled 9.9 15.2 3.0!
Family-related reasons:
Pull 6 Was Pregnant 27.8 27.8
Pull 11 Had to support family 20.0 17.6 23.0
Pull 15 To care for a member of the family 15.5 15.2 16.0
Pull 16 Became a father/mother of a baby 14.4 6.2 25.0
Pull 21 Married or planned to get married 6.8 3.0 11.6
Employment-related reasons:
Pull 7 Got a job 27.8 33.5 20.3
Pull 10 Could not work at same time 21.7 23.1 19.9
663 375 288

Source. Dalton, Glennie, Ingels, and Wirt (2009, p.22); Dropout Indicator 29.

Featured Resources

Doll, J. J., Eslami, Z., & Walters, L. (2013).  Understanding Why Students Drop Out of High School, According to Their Own Reports. SAGE Open, 3