EAST LANSING, MI (WKAR) – Every year, a percentage of college freshmen flunk out of school. But a large number also drop out. Michigan State University professor Tim Pleskac wanted to know why. Along with other researchers from MSU, the University of Missouri and Rice University, Pleskac surveyed more than 1,000 freshmen at 10 colleges. He says the findings can help college counselors understand why student might consider quitting school.
DR. TIM PLESKAC: A big part of my research is in how people make decisions, and I do a lot of studies in the laboratory about how people make risky decisions or infer things. And so this provided a really great vehicle to ask big questions about how people decide to quit; in this case, how students decide to quit school. So that was kind of an exciting venue for me to ask if what I knew about decision making in the lab could be used outside in the world.
GRETCHEN MILLICH: One of the things that you did in the study was you related it to people making a decision to quit a job.
PLESKAC: Yeah, it was with my colleagues over in Organizational Psychology who got me interested in this. And so they know lots of stuff about the psychology of the workplace. There’s a couple of theories about how employees decide to quit. The theory basically is, there’s a handful of events that might prompt you to think about quitting work; like, you have a run-in with your boss. And so we got excited about, maybe you could use the same theoretical framework to think about how students quit. Then all of a sudden we were thinking about what was prompting them to think about quitting in their everyday lives.
MILLICH: And so, what did you find?
PLESKAC: Clinical depression; if students reported being depressed…if they reported a large change in their financial status in terms of tuition or financial aid and being recruited by another job or institution prompted them to think about quitting. And so those were the big three that we should be looking out for in terms of thinking about how to counsel students about the decision to quit or not, and also helping them through these other events that maybe are very critical, like a death in the family, but maybe aren’t prompting them to think about quitting.
MILLICH: Why do you think it was those factors and not other factors?
PLESKAC: We have to be very careful; we don’t want to over-interpret. But I think depression, actually…there’s a couple of other studies that have shown a similar result that we’ve just been made aware of, so I think with depression there’s lots of life-changing things and even if people are being counseled, you’re not feeling so good about yourself and maybe it’s a cost-benefit analysis where you say, OK…this is not my best time of my life and maybe I do need to think about withdrawing now. And being recruited by another job or institution is, to some degree, maybe not surprising, right? But I think it’s interesting that these are freshmen that we asked from across the U.S. and reported being recruited by another job or institution. That’s an interesting component that makes sense to why they’re quitting, and we weren’t necessarily thinking that that would come out, and it was kind of surprising. And of course, those big changes in financial status would prompt you to think about quitting…but also, I think it has to be big changes. We asked the question about if they lost a job that they were using to pay for college, and that one didn’t actually tick the radar…and that’s probably because, you know, if you lose your job there might be another job or something available to you…but those big changes in tuition that you can’t really do anything about, those are the ones that we have to think about in terms of prompting us to think about quitting.
MILLICH: Well, what are you going to do with this information now?
PLESKAC: Hopefully, eventually get a larger study where we can look at this interaction between college and employees; some future research testing out this model, this decision model of how you decide to quit. But I think other people can start to use this research in terms of policy, so we can maybe think about how we can help curb withdrawl rates at the university level by using this information. One university contacted me just recently telling me that they were thinking about how to reduce the likelihood of unexpected bad grades and how to implement that policy. So I think that there’s different facets as we go forward, understanding the basic processes of quit decisions, but also these applied questions of how can we counsel students and improve our policies. © Copyright 2011, WKAR