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Barriers, benefits for students who drop out of Ohio State


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Cory Lyons was a first-year at Ohio State when he dropped out of college to save money on tuition while he decided what degree he wanted to pursue.

Almost seven years later, he is still figuring things out.

“If I would have stayed in school, I’d be in grad school right now,” Lyons said. “My future would be a little brighter.”

Lyons’ case isn’t an anomaly — students who drop out of school don’t always return or complete their degrees on time.

Withdrawal rates during academic year terms at OSU from 2009-13 have stayed between 0.6 percent and 0.8 percent, according to data provided by Wayne Carlson, vice provost for undergraduate studies and dean of undergraduate education in the Office of Academic Affairs at OSU. The summer withdrawal rates for those years were higher, between 1.2 percent and 1.7 percent.

While some students originally plan to only take a short time off, Carlson said they are less likely to complete their degree if they withdraw from the university.

Lyons is currently a manager at a GNC store.

“I’m not totally upset with the money I make, but you’re under a lot of pressure to hit numbers and make sales, day by day and week by week,” he said.

Lyons said he wasn’t ready for college when he got to OSU.

“College was a really big transition from high school,” Lyons said. “My parents had no idea what college was like outside of small community college so they couldn’t prepare me.”

Lyons, who dropped out of OSU in Spring Quarter 2007, said he might consider re-enrolling in classes after he pays off his student loans from his time at OSU in the next year and a half.

For students who aren’t sure what they want to do, however, taking time off can help them figure it out.

“Some students come to the university with a lack of specific goals and get into a major they aren’t happy with,” Carlson said. “Sometimes withdrawing gives the student an opportunity to think about what they want to do with their life and then they come back and do quite well.”

Aaron Thompson, a fourth-year in sculpture, dropped out of college for seven years before finding his niche at OSU.

Originally majoring in broadcast engineering at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, Thompson said his plan was to support himself working and make art in his free time.

“I laid carpet for three years, I did some fast food, I worked in a call center for seven hours, I sucked at retail for a few months and I worked as a nurse’s aide for three years,” Thompson said. “Even when I made enough money to pay my bills, I hated it.”

Pursuing a degree in a subject that is meaningful doesn’t mean less work, but it does give him a reason to work hard, Thompson said.

“I might whine, cry and get irritated about school, but I’d much rather work hard at this now than work a job later where I have to ask permission to use the bathroom,” Thompson said.

Emily Jadwin, a first-year in accounting, said the first thing that comes to mind when she thinks about dropouts is later success.

“It may seem to other people that you’re being lackadaisical about it and don’t care about your grades, but there are other options out there and college isn’t right for everybody,” Jadwin said.

There is a stigma that comes with a student withdrawing that the university tries to dispel, Carlson said.

“There’s a cultural expectation that they’ll keep chugging away at school,” Carlson said. “I think a lot of students may feel like they’ve failed themselves or their family or teachers if they withdraw and step away.”

Nathan Singler dropped out of OSU two years ago and said people have perceived him as lazy or stupid because they don’t understand his decision.

“You have to get over what other people think and realize what’s best for you,” Singler said.

Currently working as a pizza delivery driver, Singler plans to enroll at Bowling Green State University this fall, though he said he isn’t sure what he’ll major in yet.

“I’ll be enrolled in undecided science to begin with, but after I take some introductory classes I’ll figure it out,” he said.

Heading straight to college after high school does not give some students enough time to discover what they really want to do, Thompson said.

“At the young age people are pushed into school, they don’t take any time to work a crappy job and see how bad it sucks when you don’t have a degree,” Thompson said. “Working at McDonald’s for a year might help people realize what they want to do and how important it actually is to pursue it.”


  1. Timoteo Saldana Honesto

    I am curious on how this affects ones (like myself) who plan to return after a thirty year absence from attending Ohio State.

  2. There is a problem in our education system where we fill kids heads with the idea of going to college as the most important thing. Truth is, college is not for everyone, and I think we should adopt the famous “gap year” they have in some countries in Europe so kids have a time to plan and get to know them selves outside of the school setting.

    I dont think withdrawing from college is a bad thing, better than being stuck with unforgiving student loans and ending at the same job you’d had if you didn’t have a higher education, in my opinion.

  3. I dropped out in 1972 and didn’t go back until 2003! I got my bachelor’s in 2005. I have mixed feelings about getting my degree because of all the student aid debt I’m left with, but I feel good about finally getting my degree.

    I worked so much harder this time around. I wouldn’t say that school or learning was harder, just that I was more motivated. I was so thrilled to finally be back in college and I really appreciated the opportunity. I graduated with a 3.41–not too bad considering.

    Has it been worth it? The company I got a job with after graduation prefers that its employees have a degree, so I might not have gotten hired otherwise. But it hasn’t brought me much in the way of advancement or promotions since I only work part-time (by choice). Also, I didn’t get the most practical degree (history).

    I would advise anyone who is thinking of going back to school to really think it through. Find something that will translate into real earning power, unless of course you don’t have to worry about making money! And prepare yourself for “sticker shock.” College is a lot more expensive than when you were enrolled before. Make sure it’ll be worth it to you.

    And if you feel that it is, then go for it! I’m glad I did,

  4. Timoteo, I say go for it! I returned to OSU after a very long absence and finished my degree 30 years after my high school graduation. I dropped out of OSU for various family reasons, not because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. However, I returned to school and finished with an entirely different major than what I envisioned myself doing in 1974. Working and life experiences do have a way of changing you, and I do think they make you appreciate the education you receive in college more. I too believe that a gap year or two would benefit a large number of students coming out of high school. Good Luck!

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