Fewer expressions bring greater disappointment, trepidation and remorse than “I quit.” Vince Lombardi helped create the anxiety of “I quit.” You know the quips: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” Or, how about this one “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it is whether you get up.” And, before I get branded as hard-nosed and insensitive, there are times when attending university, an employment circumstance or any other engagement where quitting is appropriate. Mistakes are made. But sometimes, it’s an excuse for a poorly considered future.
Retention of students in United States universities is one of the most significant challenges in higher education. Approximately 40% of those enrolled will drop out. Of these, 40% leave because of over-indebtedness, which is the single most frequently cited reason for a degreeless departure. Nearly 39 million Americans have college credits without completing a degree. Unattended, these facts create heartburn regarding higher education. In addition, community colleges struggle. In California, most community college students never graduate or transfer. Coach Lombardi would be distraught. “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit,” said he.
The causes for this completion catastrophe are widely attributed.
Universities don’t do enough to focus on study costs and long-term earning implications. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommends students not borrow more than 60% of the anticipated starting salary in their occupation of choice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics makes this data easily available. Is this perfect? No. Is it better than borrowing willy-nilly with no concern for the marketability of the investment? Infinitely.
West Texas A&M University openly shares ways to ensure the highest potential for completion of the first year and continuing into the second. Some ways include support for students in diverse settings, living-learning communities, tutoring opportunities, supportive faculty and staff and strong encouragement to engage those who love and are loved by the student. For students with a significant number of hours accumulated, programs that make completion of courses available online provide prospects to complete requirements while working, caring for families and attending to the circumstances of life. Focus, thoughtfulness and discipline are required. I can hear him now, “Mental toughness is spartanism with qualities of sacrifice, self-denial, dedication. It is fearlessness, and it is love.”
Students and their families share part of the responsibility. The table for disaster, debt and disappointment is set if a family or student believes a college education is essential for productive citizenship. If a would-be student has not performed well in high school or shows a gift for hands-on work, such as a trade or vocation, they would be better served to aspire to something that aligns with those interests. Student aspirations should be carefully lined up with the means and actions to achieve them. When things don’t work as intended, soften the impact of leaving the institution. Configure proper separation, don’t just quit. Nationally, 17% of currently enrolled students, the majority being freshmen, say they do not plan to return in the next academic year. Depending on the time of the semester, refunds may be in order. In addition, carefully closing out the records is an important step should a return to study in the future be in the cards. They are afforded the freedom of being on their own, and a “party culture” attracts their attention, too frequently creating a loss of focus and often inadequate academic performance. Coach Lombardi would say, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”
Forces outside the campus gate are impactful. Lenders and legislative action often make borrowing easy or perpetuate the parable that people must have a college degree to be successful, adding to the culture of quitting. Some students quit college because there is a boom in the job market. Most students who quit want to find a job, and with pay scales exceeding those at any time in history, this may be a reasonable action. High inflation squeezes the general population and college students as well. Nearly one in three students quit college because they can’t afford the living expenses on top of tuition and fees. Lastly, a frequent reason for leaving is that students are not sure what they want to study. With any or all of these considerations that affect retention, quitting is ultimately the student’s responsibility. It’s important for all to work through the issues carefully, without hesitancy, with eyes wide open. Knute Rockne may have said it best, “Most men, when they think they are thinking, are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
Ultimately, the student alone says, “I quit.” Nobody else can say that for them.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns, with hyperlinks, are available at https://walterwendler.com/.