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What Percentage of College Students Fail Their First Semester?

by Amy Sterling Casil

The percentage of students who fail during their first semester of college varies depending on the type of college they are attending. Most college failure rates are calculated based upon the entire first year, not just the first semester. At elite private universities like the University of Southern California, the first year failure rate is only 4 percent. Technical colleges may have much higher failure rates. The University of Phoenix-West Florida Campus has a first-year failure rate of 80 percent.

Influencing Factors

According to the National Survey on Student Engagement, more than 150 different factors influence the chances that a student will drop out of college during the first semester or first year. Gender, ethnicity and preparation for college are three factors that can impact the student's chances of dropping out. Males are more likely than females to drop out. Forty-three percent of college degrees are awarded to male students, according to the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Only 39 percent of African American and Native American students complete a four-year college degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Less than 20 percent of students who require remedial college courses graduate from college.

Time Management

Dr. Allyson Todd, dean of academic affairs at the Community College of Allegheny County, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that some students come to college unprepared for the amount of work required. First-year classes are large, and once students fall behind, it is difficult to catch up, according to Richard Hanzelka, former president of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Time-management pressures affect up to 33 percent of students, according to the American College Health Association.

Work and Family

Students who work, have children or are not native English speakers are more likely to drop out. The Community College Study of Student Engagement found that 47 percent of students at surveyed colleges worked more than 20 hours a week, and 25 percent had children. More than 70 percent of students who start community college drop out, and they are much more likely to have children at home or an outside job.

Financial Pressures

The Pew Research Center's 2011 study discovered that 57 percent of students who dropped out preferred to work and earn money, while 48 percent could not afford college whether they were working or not. Some students are dropping out by choice, calculating that the degree they may have chosen won't help them secure a job or that student loans, which average more than $23,000 per borrower, are too high for the benefit.

About the Author

Amy Sterling Casil is an award-winning writer with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chapman University in Orange, Calif. She is a professional author and college writing teacher, and has published 20 nonfiction books for schools and libraries.

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