The Drop Out Crisis and “When Life Intervenes”

A few years ago the Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran a 7 part series of articles called “Ready or Not” that looked at various aspects of the transition to college for young people in the area.  Some of the focus was on academic preparation, advising remedial classes as a precursor to the rigors of college study.  Another focus was on various dramatic programs that schools have begun undertaking to identify “danger signs” in students early on and intervene before they drop out.  The most interesting article featured a familiar photo of a group of young students drinking beer and having a party on their porch below the headline: “many students fail when life intervenes.” In it students describe feelings of both excitement and terror at being thrust onto campus, suddenly free to make their own choices about diet, sleep routines, and time management.  Unsurprisingly it is often these small decisions that can be a new students undoing.  After a semesters worth of late nights, pizza, beer, and video games many students find that their grades (or even their health!) have slipped to a place where staying in school is no longer feasible.

On the national scale, college drop out rates are a serious area of concern both within schools and in the press.  In an article for the Fiscal Times last fall Katherine Reynolds Lewis states that just 56% of students who enroll in a four year college earn a bachelor’s degree.  Some studies show even lower rates.  The graduation rates for students who transfer from four year colleges to community college are even more dismal, with only 22% going on to complete a bachelors degree.

Obviously students drop out of college for a whole host of reasons whether personal, developmental, or financial.  At the Saxifrage School we won’t be immune to any of these individual causes but it is our hope that by building a small, personable college atmosphere; one that more closely resembles rooted community life, we will be better able to equip students to thrive while in school.  In a 2002 report on “College Drinking Prevention” Dr. Upcraft, a former professor at Penn State University states that success means a lot more than just good grades; “It is making progress on educational, interpersonal, career, identity, health and spiritual development, and taking advantage of the collegiate environment by growing and developing to one’s maximum potential.”  It is our hope that by creating an atmosphere where students deal more directly with their community, not only in classes together but in their interactions with local business owners, neighbors, and their surroundings, that life and education will already be occurring without the need for one to negatively influence the other.