How to Identify and Prevent Dropout

Early identification of risk factors that could cause a student to drop out can make a major difference in that student’s educational outcomes. Learn how to identify the potential risks and what you can do to prevent dropout.

Hello everyone! My name is Alissa and I’m a Regional Director of Sales here at Wonderlic. Today I’m going to talk about identifying student risk factors and how to prevent existing students from dropping out.

A recent study conducted by the Association for Institutional Research revealed that dropout risk is highest in the first term of postsecondary educational programs. This number then drops significantly in subsequent terms. This means that if you can identify risk factors early on and get students through the first couple of courses, their likelihood of success will improve tremendously.

So, let’s talk about some of the warning signs that students may exhibit before dropping out.

First, let’s look at their behavior in class and school related assignments and activities.

  • Are they showing up on time?
  • Are they coming to class at all? (Whether that means attending class on campus or via online lecture or discussion.)
  • Do they participate?
  • Have they been active with homework assignments?
  • Do they take on leadership roles in group tasks?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may have a disengaged student on your hands. It is essential, then, that someone from the school follow-up with these potentially disengaged students one-on-one to learn more about what is causing them to not take a more active role in their learning. Maybe they don’t feel connected to the material because it is not the right career path for them. Or maybe it’s something outside of school. You will need to determine if there is a push factor, something inside the school that is pushing them towards dropping out, or a pull factor, something outside the school that is pulling their attention away.

By meeting with these students and letting them know you care, even just by showing them that you know them by name, they will be more likely to stay on track. You may also gather some useful feedback from these students that can help you further engage all of your students.

You will also need to consider other factors that are outside of your control that can affect your students’ engagement levels as well as their likelihood of dropping out.  

If the student,

  • Has a high number of work hours outside of school
  • Has a learning disability
  • Comes from a family background with low levels of education
  • Is a parent

They are going to be more likely to drop out than students who do not possess these risk factors.

If you’ve identified some of these characteristics or background issues with any of your students, help them work through these issues by providing extra support and guidance. By helping them understand how obtaining an education WILL be a benefit to them in the long run and by keeping them engaged in your courses, they will be more likely to stay and succeed.

Finally, the most effective and objective way to gauge the overall level of student engagement at your institution is by administering a student engagement survey. These surveys not only tell you how engaged your students are, but they also identify specific areas and levers at your school that can be used to increase engagement. By regularly assessing the level of student engagement at your institution and implementing the appropriate action plans based on the results, you will be preventing students from dropping out.

Well, that’s all I have for today! I hope you found this video helpful. Be sure to visit our blog for more videos and useful articles, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news and information on student achievement, workplace and human resource issues, and more. Thanks and have a wonderful day!





As more and adults enter (or reenter) the classroom, our academic environment is more diverse than ever before. While I understand that this article is probably referring mostly to young adults entering college for the first, I think the same ideas apply to adult learners of all ages and levels.

Adult learners in particular must learn to balance their academic responsibilities along with all the other social, work, and family responsibilities. While the challenges may seem incredibly difficult at first, once the individual establishes his/her routine and time management, it all becomes a lot better. I entered my doctoral studies after being out of school for three years and working a full-time (50+ hours/week) job. At first, I was indeed overwhelmed by it all, but soon after things began to fall into place. I appreciate the supportive nature and guidance of those first instructors.

Working on my EdD while balancing work and family has probably been the most difficult thing I have ever done. It's been two years since I started, and the sacrifices seem to get greater as the doctoral study approaches. I had never experienced such a seemingly endless state of sleep deprivation before, but I have never felt as overwhelmed and stressed as I did during my very first course.

Thanks for sharing your experience Jose! Your perspective as an adult learner is very valuable and it's important for today's post-secondary institutions to consider these life factors when aligning the appropriate support and learning models for non-traditional students. It's great to hear that you received support and guidance from your instructors early on- as you know, that makes all the difference. Kudos to you for your hard work and good luck with your doctoral study!

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