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Mental Health, Stress Top Reasons Students Consider Leaving

Mental Health, Stress Top Reasons Students Consider Leaving

Story Highlights

  • About a third of students have considered quitting in the past six months
  • Mental health and stress most important reasons students consider quitting
  • Female students more likely to stop out because of mental health and stress

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thirty-five percent of college students nationally report they have considered leaving their program in the past six months. The most important reason students cite for leaving higher education is their wellbeing, with 54% reporting emotional stress and 43% reporting mental health reasons. The percentage of students saying emotional stress was risking their continued enrollment more than doubled from 2020 to 2021 and remains high when compared with other factors. Cost continues to be the third most important reason students have considered leaving their program, at 31%.


The latest results are from the Lumina Foundation-Gallup 2024 State of Higher Education Study, conducted Oct. 9-Nov. 16, 2023, via a web survey with 14,032 current and prospective college students. This includes 6,015 students currently enrolled in a post-high school education program (certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree), 5,012 adults previously enrolled in a program who did not complete a degree, and 3,005 adults who have never been enrolled in a school or program. Gallup surveyed all groups via an opt-in online panel.

Emotional Stress, Mental Health Concerns Highest Among Bachelor’s Students

About two-thirds of bachelor’s degree students who have considered pausing their studies (67%) say emotional stress has caused them to think of leaving, and 56% cite personal mental health reasons. Struggles with mental health and emotional stress are slightly more common among bachelor’s students than among associate degree students, although about half of students pursuing their associate degree also report emotional stress and mental health as reasons they have considered leaving their program. Far fewer certificate or industry certification students who have thought about stopping their coursework mention emotional stress or mental health. Students' reasons for leaving their program have remained relatively consistent across years within each program type.


Female students are also more likely to report that they have considered leaving due to their wellbeing. Sixty-four percent of female college students say they have considered stopping out due to emotional stress, compared with 37% of men. Similarly, 52% of women have considered leaving their program for mental health reasons, compared with 27% of men.

Bottom Line

Overall declines in wellbeing began pre-pandemic, and COVID-19 only exacerbated these challenges. Unfortunately, Gallup finds that lower levels of happiness, along with heightened negative emotions, continue post-pandemic. In fact, the World Happiness Report confirms that the U.S. has lost its spot in the top 20 happiest countries for the first time in the publication’s 12-year history, and the decline is in part due to declines in youth happiness. These increased levels of stress, anxiety and worry and overall lower levels of wellbeing are presenting a significant challenge for institutions focused on student retention and, ultimately, credential/degree completion.

While colleges and universities report they have stepped up their investments into programs designed to mitigate personal mental health issues and emotional stress for students, findings from the Lumina-Gallup State of Higher Education Study confirm that mental health and stress are still the leading reasons students struggle to remain enrolled. Much work remains to be done to ensure institutions retain currently enrolled students while working hard to attract new students amid continued concern about enrollment trends in the U.S.

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Learn more about how the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education Study works.


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