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) 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@dropoutprevention.org or phone: (864-642-6372.).

TypeRankCause of DropoutOverall Frequency PercentageMalesFemales
OverallPushed out—10 factors48.753.147.1
Pulled out—8 factors36.930.440.0
Falling out—3 factors14.316.512.9

School-related reasons:

Push1Missed too many school days43.544.142.7
Pull2Thought it would be easier to get GED40.541.539.1
Push3Was getting poor grades/failing school38.040.135.2
Fall4Did not like school36.640.132.0
Push5Could not keep up with schoolwork32.129.735.3
Push8Thought could not complete course requirements25.622.939.0
Push9Could not get along with teachers25.027.721.6
Fall12Did not feel belonged there19.919.919.9
Push13Could not get along with others18.717.720.1
Push14Was suspended16.922.99.0
Fall17Changed schools and did not like new one11.214.57.0
Push18Thought would fail competency test10.59.012.3
Push19Did not feel safe10.010.59.5
Push20Was expelled9.915.23.0!

Family-related reasons:

Pull6Was Pregnant27.827.8
Pull11Had to support family20.017.623.0
Pull15To care for a member of the family15.515.216.0
Pull16Became a father/mother of a baby14.46.225.0
Pull21Married or planned to get married6.83.011.6

Employment-related reasons:

Pull7Got a job27.833.520.3
Pull10Could not work at same time21.723.119.9
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 ReportsSAGE Open, 3
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