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Overcoming Adversity in Education

Every year 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States, and as many as 1 in 3 first-year college students won’t return for their sophomore year, according to DoSomething.org and U.S. News Education.

By Hannah Isley & Celita Summa

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Every year 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States, and as many as 1 in 3 first-year college students won’t return for their sophomore year, according to DoSomething.org and U.S. News Education.

The facts may seem extreme, but they are the harsh reality.

Cynthia Demetriou is director of retention in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. With the help of her office members, she assists at-risk students, especially transfers, who are considering dropping out or are simply struggling.

The office also has an outreach program for high schoolers to ensure a wider variety of them have the opportunity to higher education.

“I believe in the value of a liberal arts education, which can help students develop into critical thinkers,” Demetriou said. She added, “College can be an enriching and transformative experience for young students, and can help them engage in society.”

Every person struggles in a different way and the office wants to identify each student’s specific issue in order to address it in the most beneficial way to the individual.

One of the main strategies the office uses when approached by students considering dropping out is to look into their backgrounds to see if anything of note stands out. The office checks to see if students are the first in their families to attend college, having financial challenges, or maybe exploring a career area not well-suited to their interests.

Students who are struggling financially may have to work to support themselves or their families, decreasing the amount of time that otherwise would be available for them to study and enjoy general recreation time that could aid in their assimilation into college life.

Another might be that the school simply isn’t a good fit for some students. It may be some students’ first major change in life. They could be first-generation college students, and therefore overwhelmed with the process of going through university, due to a lack of familial experience.

Yet another common factor is the issue of culture. Students may feel ostracized as minorities, not finding a group of similar people to connect with. An example of an effort to combat this problem in the office is collaboration with the American Indian campus group, an initiative to ensure all students of that heritage are comfortable at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Those who are members of a racial minority, or who hail from rural communities, also may struggle to find their niches and fully integrate into a college campus.

“In the last decade, there has been an institutional response to getting students through to graduation and providing programs to support them,” Demetriou said. “We tend to the holistic development of the student.”

EducationNext says that as high school graduation has grown in importance to society today, so too has the necessity of graduating with a bachelor’s degree, which can now even be considered essential for economic success. Without the minimum high school diploma, people may struggle to elevate their socioeconomic status and pursue the paths they wish.

With the rising value of education in contemporary Western society, the amount of resources available for the students is required to increase accordingly.

“If we’re not getting them through to graduation, what are we doing?” Demetriou said.