Causes of Failure in College    back

The University of Alabama
Center for Academic Success
124 Osband
348-5175

Every year more than 380,000 students fail out of college in the United States. The impact of college failure can cause lasting damage to self-esteem, and the consequences can influence an entire lifetime. In studying the complexities of the failure problem, Dr. Robert Pitcher of the Educational Development Center has come up with what he believes are 10 primary causes of failure in college. Being aware of these causes of college failure is a necessary first step in seeking workable solutions.

1. Understanding the amount of work required
The difference in the amount and quality of work demanded by a reasonably good college and that required by the typical high school is much greater than most students realize. Prior to college, school work is usually parceled out in small units and students usually spend a minimum amount of time studying. In college, students may actually work harder than they have ever worked before and still find that their efforts are not sufficient.

2. Other activities
College may be considered important to parents, to teachers, to employers, to people searching for a job, or to students who have defined career goals. But some college students get into academic difficulty because college is not really very important to them. They may have heard about the necessity of higher education. They have probably even agreed. But if they do not really understand the importance of studying in college and if they let other activities get in the way, chances are they will not do very well in college. Watch what college students do and how they spend their time. Actions reveal true values and reflect where students really put education in their personal scheme of things. While social activities are important, mature students will put academics before other activities.

3. Vagueness about long-range goals
Most mature adults realize that success in college demands a great deal of hard work. However, the desire for pleasure and fun is also a very strong need among adolescents. One of the signs of maturity is the ability to delay immediate pleasure and look at long-range goals. These goals do not have to be specifically defined, but they must be oneís own. A student must have a sense of working toward a goal or reward that he or she really wants, whether it is the pleasure of a good grade, a still undefined career, or status and security. College work is likely to seem grim, difficult and even meaningless if it is not related to personal goals and objectives.

4. Inappropriate choice of a major
There are few humans with a very clear idea of themselves at the age of 18 or 19; consequently, many students initially may choose inappropriate fields of study. One of the purposes of college is to help students discover or create their identities through education. This process of change reflects not a lack of character, but the development of it. Students must be aware of their own development and adjust previous goals and decisions to accommodate personal growth.

5. Poor language skills
To a large extent, the success or failure of a student in college directly hinges on mastery of the language. A student must be able to read, to write, to speak, and to listen effectively. Being ineffective in even one of these language abilities can lead to academic difficulty. These language problems are not necessarily related to intelligence, and skill in one language area does not mean equal skill in the others. All college students, no matter how bright, are expected to improve their language skills. Listening with comprehension is a particularly neglected skill, and students often must overcome a life-time of poor listening habits.

6. Lack of personal standards of quality
Before college, judging a studentís work is largely the teacherís responsibility. The trouble with this process is that many students do not learn to evaluate their own work and to develop high standards of quality. They frequently overestimate their understanding of college material and the quality of their written work. This factor alone may lead to taking criticism too personally, placing blame on instructors, and claiming "personality conflicts" with teachers.

7. Interference from psychological problems
College is a time of growth and development, e.g., establishing emotional independence from parents, determining a personal value system, finding a career goal, establishing relationships within peer groups. While these demands are normal age-related tasks, they may sometimes become overwhelming and seriously interfere with academic performance.

8. Failure to assume responsibility
Perhaps the greatest change and challenge facing students is dealing with the increased freedom which students experience when they are away from home. Choices are presented regarding the use of time, personal habits, social activities, and even whether or not to attend class or do assignments. These choices are accompanied by consequences. Although friends, parents, and faculty may advise, the choices and consequences are ultimately the responsibility of the student.

9. Selection of the wrong college
There is an enormous range of institutions and academic standards. Students may find themselves at a college for which they are unprepared. The campus climate and/or size may not be personally suitable. The right match of student and college is an important ingredient of college success and satisfaction.

10. Lack of ability and/or poor high school preparation
Some students find that their educational background or their lack of effort has not prepared them for the academic demands of the college they have chosen. They may need remedial programs to make up for past deficiencies.